Friday, March 20, 2020

"I Know A Hill Where Periwinkle Grows"

Just outside my window

Vinca minor closeup

Periwinkle’s evergreen
Periwinkle’s strong,
Under the snow it lives
All Winter long.

When the first thaw come
Periwinkle’s seen
In all its myrtle grace
Clear, dark green.

I know a hill where 
Periwinkle grows,
A little hill that
The morning knows.
- Periwinkle, Louise Driscoll (1875-1957)

Doesn’t that make you want some in your garden? You should consider it. Periwinkle, also known as vinca, is very easy to grow. As I write this in March, periwinkle is blooming up a storm

As noted in Driscoll’s poem, periwinkle is an evergreen ground cover vine. It may be found growing nearly world-wide. Though no one is sure, it’s believed the word, Vinca, is derived from a Latin word meaning "to bind." Vinca is a trailing plant, and the runners root as they extend. The long, tough runners were used in some cultures to form rope.

Mature height as a ground cover is usually from 8" to 18". Flower colors range from blue to white or burgundy, depending upon the cultivar. Vinca prefers moist soil in partial shade to full shade, but will also tolerate sun and drought. It is deer resistant.

There are two species of Vinca commonly available: Vinca major and Vinca minor. Louise Driscoll wrote about V. minor.

Vinca minor is commonly known as dwarf periwinkle, creeping myrtle, or death myrtle. It does contain toxic substances. I’m sure that’s why the name figured in the Harry Potter story with the ghost, Moaning Myrtle.

Vinca foliage is about 3/4" wide and 1" long. Mature height is about 4". Foliage is deep green and shiny. It is hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 8. Soil pH should range from 6.1 to 7.8.

Find Your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone By Zip Code

Vinca minor on hillsideAs a ground cover, vinca is effective for erosion control on hillsides. If planting it for erosion control, try to mitigate the water flow until the plants are established, otherwise the water might dislodge them.

Periwinkle does well in shallow soil, even where tree roots render it difficult to cultivate. But, if possible, prepare the planting bed by cultivating about 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Plant 6" to 12" apart. If fertilizer is used, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Periwinkle can be planted any time of year, even bare root plants. Even so, you should water occasionally until the plants become established to avoid drought stress. Maintenance is minimal. Periwinkle has few pest and disease problems, and tolerates poor soil.

Because it is so common, folks often overlook it, unless it’s found growing where they don’t want it. As I’ve often said, “it does what a ground cover is supposed to do; it covers ground.” Periwinkle is popular precisely because it is so effective, attractive, and requires practically no maintenance.

Return to Vinca at GoGardenNow.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Great Garden Visits - Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Garden

Carousel in the Bellagio Conservatory

Around the circle.

A Grand Circle tour is not complete without visiting the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Garden. That’s what we discovered. Our aim was to explore some of the well-known and not-so-well-known gardens along the Grand Circle route through the Southwest, to study low-maintenance xeriscapes and fascinating plants. At the end, we included a walk through the high-maintenance Bellagio.

It made sense to begin and end at Las Vegas. The flights were cheap. The temperature in May was bearable. The accommodation at an AirBnB in Henderson, NV was pleasant. Las Vegas was the ideal point of departure and return.

Going against the flow

We found ourselves doing that a lot, no matter which direction we walked. We ducked the rave crowd streaming to the Electric Daisy Carnival.

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels"Does her mother know she's dressed like that?", asked a grandmother nearby.

"She might be a mother", said another.

We strove against the tide crossing pedestrian bridges, and wondered "Where are all these people going? What do they know that we don’t know?" We wriggled away from the crush around the Fountains of Bellagio. When others were headed for the slot machines and shows, we were looking for gardens and a slower pace. As it turned out, so were some others.

About the Conservatory and Garden

We found the conservatory across the lobby from the front desk of the Bellagio. A glass ceiling rises up to 50 feet and is supported by a sculpted green metal verdigris framework set in floral patterns. Several garden-themed shops surround the space.

Everything is covered with flowers. It reminded me of the floats in the Rose Bowl parade. A large staff maintains the garden, changing designs with the seasons and events. The seasons begin with the Chinese New Year, followed by spring cherry blossoms. Flowers, foliage, textures and fragrances complement all seasons. As advertised, “This ever-changing natural display is the single most significant component of Bellagio’s design, fulfilling the promise of creating the most extraordinary hotel in the world.”

Here’s a taste of what’s in store.


Makes you want to see it for yourself, doesn't it?

Return to GoGardenNow.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Number One Rule For Vegetable Gardening - Make It Easy On Yourself

Photo by Binyamin Mellish from Pexels

Make it easy on yourself. 

That’s the number one rule in my book of gardening notes to self. When garden work becomes more of a chore than a pleasure, you’ll regret that you started. When the hardship is greater than the reward, you’ll likely become disheartened and walk away. Disappointment and a twinge of guilt might haunt you. To avoid those outcomes, I’ve a few suggestions.

Choose the right site.

The wrong location will doom you, either to failure or to extra labor. Keep in mind that:

  • The location should be convenient;
  • Vegetable gardens require plenty of sun – 6 to 8 hours per day;
  • Native soil should be well-drained, deep, fertile, free from rocks and other obstructions;
  • A reliable source of water should be nearby.

Any of those conditions may not be perfect in your case. They can be mitigated somewhat, but that takes work. Do the best you can.

Plot the right size.

The plot size can be determined:

  • By your surroundings; 
  • By your available time and interest;
  • By your age or energy level;
  • By your goals.

If you live in an apartment, your garden might be limited to a few planters on your balcony, unless you have access to a community garden area.

Early enthusiasm for your project can easily exceed available time, and succumb to waning interest, the constraints of age and energy. Studying seed catalogs in January is a lot like shopping Sears Wishbook before Christmas; you gotta have it all. Your plot size shouldn’t exceed your personal resources. Get real!

For most of us, the goal is pleasure, a large measure of satisfaction, and some tasty food for the table. A small garden will usually suffice, and should be manageable.

If your goal is self-sufficiency, you have a long row to hoe, so to speak. That’s a subject best left for another time.

Select the right plants.

The right plants should:

  • Be easy to grow;
  • Require NO fungicides, and pesticides (IMO);
  • Appeal to your taste.

It might take a little research to determine what will be easy to grow in your area. You’ll need to know:

  • Your climate zone;
  • Your atmospheric conditions;
  • Your neighbors’ successes and failures.

Climate zone is important. For example, if winters are cold and summers are short, you’ll need cold-hardy plants, and summer crops that only require short growing seasons. Check out the USDA Interactive Climate Zone map.

Atmospheric conditions can include such factors as rain, drought and humidity.  There's not much you can do about them. Plant diseases and crop failure are very often caused by such. Plant selections must accommodate them.

There’s no substitute for visiting with your gardening neighbors. Those who’ve lived in the area for long should be able to give you an earful, or you can just peer over their fences to see what’s looking good.

My advice is to plant what you know will be easy to grow. In south Georgia that would be okra, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), Seminole pumpkins, purple hull peas and corn. (For real success, study your area for edible weeds.) But if you’re filled with inexhaustible hope in the face of disappointment, grow whatever you want.

There’s no accounting for taste. You and your family will like certain vegetables, or you won’t. For example, my family doesn’t care much for okra, though I disagree. My wife thinks Jerusalem artichokes are weeds, though I disagree. Don’t bother planting crops that few will eat.

Before you begin planning your vegetable garden, remember my number one rule; make it easy on yourself.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

It's Seed Catalog Time

Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

It's seed catalog time! Crocuses, winter aconite, cornelian cherry and robins tell us that spring is near. But seed catalogs in winter are earlier harbingers. From the mailbox, they tend to migrate throughout the house, first to the kitchen table, then to the bedside table, and finally to the reading basket beside the commode.

A gardening friend asked me whether I had perused all the new issues. She was excited about the AAS winners and other new plants on the market, especially the grafted tomatoes. (Tomato grafting is a process by which favorite old varieties are spliced onto new, disease resistant rootstock.) I confessed that I had not, though not for want of desire. There are just too many to investigate.

As we considered grafted tomatoes, my mind wandered to recall names of some old-fashioned varieties. (To be polite, I didn't let on that my mind was wandering.) There's Arkansas Traveler, Beefsteak, Kimberly, Brandywine, Bull's Heart, Ox Heart, Italian Plum, Mortgage Lifter, to name a few. I don't know why such varieties were abandoned. Perhaps varieties with better taste and disease resistance were bred and widely accepted. Perhaps newer varieties were highly promoted and popularized disproportionately to their worth. It may be that tomato grafting will allow some of those heirloom varieties to be enjoyed again. Johnny's Selected Seeds is a good source.

If you would like to explore the world of heirloom tomatoes, check out Gary Ibsen's Tomato Fest. I've had no experience with the company, but it looks promising. Browsing their web site has whetted my appetite for home-grown tomatoes like the ones in my grandmother's garden.

I've always had a nostalgic place in my heart for whatever good that was lost. It was touched again one fall when we came upon a roadside stand with a pile of Kershaw melons and Candy Roaster squash. I hadn't grown any for over 25 years. It was as though I had found treasure. We stopped and bought fewer than I actually wanted, but all that we could handle for a few weeks. Of course, we kept the seed for planting in spring.

If Kershaws, Candy Roasters and other heirlooms interest you, check out Seed Saver's Exchange. Diane and Kent Whealy founded the non-profit organization in 1975. I learned about Seed Saver's Exchange in the late '70s. Though I haven't been involved as a member, I've appreciated their work and I recommend Seed Saver's Exchange to anyone who seems interested.

So, during seed catalog time, I wouldn't be surprised if your mind is wandering and wondering if you can make room in your garden for heirloom vegetables and fruits. Of course you can.

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Who's afraid of the big, bad coywolf?

Coywolf hybrid  

There was a time when wolves were generally feared. They roamed wild across continents. Travelers feared for their own safety. Herders feared for their flocks. As marauders, wolves were ensconced in history, legend, and popular stories.

They were hunted relentlessly. Now these shy and reclusive creatures are seldom encountered, except in remote wilderness areas.
Not so with their relative - the coyote. While shy, coyotes are not so withdrawn, more comfortable with life at the edge of human civilization, or closer. 
Sometimes their paths cross. The wolf whistles. The other appears coy and blushes. Animal instincts take over. They are soon the proud parents of little coywolves.
This happens more often than one might expect. It's believed that most of the "coyotes" seen in the eastern North America are actually coywolves. Not only that. They are probably hybrids of wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), and may number in the millions.
Not surprisingly, coywolves will possess characteristics of their parents. This makes them very adaptable and wide-ranging. They've been spotted as far south as Virginia. No doubt their range will increase.
Have you seen a coyote by the road? Did one just cross your yard? It was probably a coywolf.
What is to be done if coywolves have been spotted in your area? Should they be feared? A little research on the internet, and common sense, reveals the following:
  • If one crosses your path, give it plenty of space.
  • Avoid physical contact. Coywolves are wild animals. As such they can attack, and injure or kill. They can also carry diseases.
  • Avoid threatening postures if one crosses your path. Do NOT make eye contact. Do NOT turn and run. DO back away slowly.
  • Remove food sources.
    • Clean up around dumpsters and trash cans.
    • Avoid feeding pets outdoors.
    • Secure small or weak farm animals indoors at night, including poultry and young livestock.
    • Bring pets indoors at night.
  • Supervise children when they're playing outdoors, or have them play in fenced enclosures. Warn youngsters against approaching them.
  • Notify animal control authorities.
Be cautious; be safe. 

For further reading:

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Monday, December 23, 2019

Current Data Shows Glyphosate Is Not Linked to Cancer

Spraying weed

According to Jason Ferrell, director of the Pesticide Information Office with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS),  "Currently, the data we have does not seem to indicate that glyphosate causes cancer. So we still believe that it can be used as an effective part of an integrated pest management strategy and plan.”
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup®, one of the world's most popular herbicides. However, since 2015 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, as a probable carcinogen, public concerns have intensified. Many other agencies around the world began studying its safety.
So far, “All of the other world agencies — and there have been several — have not classified it as a probable carcinogen and they don’t believe there is a clear link between glyphosate and cancer with the current data that we have," says Ferrell.
The bottom line, then, is that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is the only world agency that classifies glyphosate as a probable carcinogen, in stark contrast to the study results from all the others.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Chop your leaves and leave them there.

Photo by Kadri Vosumae from Pexels

Tired of expense and labor?

Are you tired of the expense and labor of bagging leaves and hauling them to the curb? Do burning restrictions prevent you from dispatching them into the air to cause the crisis du jour? Use your lawn mower to chop your leaves into teeny-tiny pieces, and leave them there. The particles will eventually settle into the grass and compost themselves. It's the easiest way to prepare your yard for the winter and feed it, too.

How to do it

There are a couple of ways to go about it. It begins with a good lawn mower. You can use a “mulching mower” that has no side-discharge port, or a mower fitted with a “high-lift” mulching blade and a side-discharge plug. (I prefer the later; it leaves more options.) The plug keeps the chopped leaves and grass blades under the mower deck for further chopping. For best results, mow the length of the lawn, then mow a second time across the width of the space. For this to work properly, the grass must be relatively short – no more than 3 inches – and dry. The leaves may be moist, but not wet. If wet, the particles will stick to the underside of the deck, clogging up the works. Crank up the engine to high, and let ‘er rip.

The other way is to mow the lawn with your side-discharge mower, fitted with a mulching blade, in a pattern that will allow you to re-cut the discharged particles from the previous pass. Mowing in concentric circles can be very effective. This is a better method if your grass is longer, or the lawn is a little too wet. (Keep in mind, however, that mowing wet grass is never a good idea.) Just keep mowing until the leaves have all but disappeared.

About that mower

Here are my personal thoughts about the mower. It matters not whether you have a riding mower or a push-mower. The principles are the same. If you only need a small mower, I suggest using a lightweight machine with a 22-inch deck, and without the self-propelling mechanism. Self-propelling mowers are heavier and have more parts to break, so are more expensive to maintain. I’d rather have a lightweight mower with the power of a Chevy V-8, but that’s not possible.

Self-propelled mowers can be useful, though, particularly if the lawn is sloped, or your physical ability prevents you from pushing. I recommend those with rear-wheel drives. Honda and Kohler engines are my favorites.

When you've finished

When you’ve finished mowing, apply a “winter-blend” fertilizer. It should have a chemical analysis like 24-3-12, 32-0-10, or 26-2-12. The numbers indicate the parts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, in that order. It’s important that the potassium content is high, for it promotes winter-hardiness and root growth.

Want more to do?

You can bag your clippings and haul them off, but that defeats the purpose of mulching the leaves. But, if you insist, put them in your compost pile. You can also apply them as a thick mulch in your vegetable garden to prevent weeds. So long as your lawn isn’t full of weeds to begin with, the thick mulch shouldn’t add to your garden’s weed problem.

Bagging works best when the grass is of normal height and dry. Dump the clippings onto a small tarp and drag them off to your preferred location.

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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Roadside Attractions

Ditch lily - Hemerocallis fulva

Those of us old enough to remember when cars didn’t have air-conditioners recall the welcome sights of roadside attractions. They weren’t our final vacation destinations, but their oddly unique appearances piqued our curiosities, and provided occasional relief from our sweat-boxes on wheels. Of course, we usually left with a few souvenirs.
I still have the urge to pull off the road sometimes to “see a man about a dog” or something that catches my eye, or both at once. More than likely, some interesting plants provide the excuse.
Here are a few that often attract my attention. Better yet, you can grow them at home as mementos.

Gelsemium sempervirens

Carolina Jessamine

Our native Carolina Jessamine is a spectacular vine that is well-known throughout the South. Its range is from Virginia to Texas and southward through Mexico. Motorists are sure to notice it as they travel along our highways as Jessamine festoons trees and shrubs in early spring. Read more about Carolina Jessamine.

Rudbeckia species

Black-Eye Susan

Black-Eye Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is one of my summer favorites, and not mine only. I often pass cars parked beside highways, the driver and passengers strolling among bright-flowered patches to pluck bouquets. Read more about Black-Eye Susan.

Campsis radicans

Trumpet Vine

Trumpet Vine is a very familiar vine native to the southern United States, but can be grown as far north as New York. Travelers will noticed it growing up and over fences and signposts along the highway. Large, bright yellow, orange to red trumpet-shaped flowers appear from midsummer to fall. Read more about Trumpet Vine.

Coreopsis species
Coreopsis - also known as Tickseed - brightens roadsides and median strips in sunny yellow throughout the summer. It's one of my favorites from childhood that has stuck with me all these years.
Read more about Coreopsis.

Hemerocallis fulva

Ditch Lily

Ditch Lily is a species of daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) that is so common you’ll think it’s native, but it’s not. This naturalized beauty is spectacular en masse where you’ll often find it growing … you guessed it … in ditches. There is even a double-flowered ditch lily. Read more about daylilies.

With these roadside attractions popping up every so often, you’ll be tempted to stop and take a stroll, even if your car does have air-conditioning!

Monday, October 21, 2019

How Can Hurricanes Effect Your Garden?

hurricane forecast models

Lord of the winds! I feel thee nigh,
I know thy breath in the burning sky!
And I wait, with a thrill in every vein,
For the coming of the hurricane!
From The Hurricane - Poem by William Cullen Bryant

Okay. Let's be honest. Those of us near the coast are not that thrilled about hurricanes. We prepare as best we can, study the forecasters' spaghetti models, pray that the mega-storm won't affect us personally, but will make landfall elsewhere. 
While I was waiting on the last one, I started thinking about how hurricanes can impact gardeners, even if it's a glancing blow. Here are some observations.

Hurricanes may bring different pests

When Hurricane Irma blew through the Southeast in 2017, the region’s agriculture was affected in various ways. Ayanava Majumdar, Extension entomologist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, pointed out that the storm could have surprising consequences with insect populations in our gardens.
Hear Dr. Majumdar speak about it.
Read more about hurricanes and pests.

The effects of salty soil

Salt is good, right? We say someone is “salt of the earth” if they are virtuous. Salt is a valuable commodity, sometimes used for barter or as money. Roman soldiers received part of their salary – salarium – in salt. A worthless soldier (or slave) wasn't "worth his salt." But, salt can be a bad thing. Just ask any coastal gardener. Storm surges from hurricanes - even minor flooding - increase salt content in the soil.

Why, and so what? 

Effects on pollinators and pollination

The two obvious characteristics of hurricanes are very strong winds and heavy rainfall. Gardeners affected by direct hits are immediately concerned with the devastating impact upon their gardens. But there are other less obvious but important consequences – pollinator injury or displacement, and pollination degradation.
What happens to pollinators such as butterflies and bees during hurricanes? And what happens with the pollination? 
Read more about storms and pollinators.

Unique birding opportunities

As much as we hate them, hurricanes can make a bird-watcher’s dream come true. Powerful winds send birds from distant locations far north along coastlines, or even inland. You might even find some rare species from Africa or the Caribbean in your own backyard. 
Read more about storms and birds.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

House Plants That Might Help You Sleep

Woman sleeping with pillow

A representative of recently contacted me to inform about their work in sleep studies, specifically how some plants act as sleep aids. While much of the information about specific plants and their effects are well-known, I think it’s worth reviewing.

House Plants That Might Help You Sleep.

Their contributor, Abbie Stutzer, published an article, Houseplants and Sleep. In it, she names 10 plants that might help you sleep. They are:

1. English Ivy

English Ivy (Hedera helix) is best known as a climbing ornamental vine and ground cover. It can also be grown as a houseplant. Hedera helix ‘Ivalace’ is a good one for indoors, as is ‘Needlepoint’. ‘Baltica’ has larger leaves, but the decorative white veins in the foliage make it another fine choice. Hedera helix thrives in low light conditions and indoor environments. The reason this species is noted is due to its ability to help “clean indoor air.” This characteristic is shared by most other plants, but not all do so well indoors.

2. Chinese (or Philippine) evergreens

Stutzer noted, “A study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology discovered that Chinese or Philippine Evergreens, also known as Aglaonema brevispathum, are great at removing indoor pollutants. In the study, the researchers observed that Aglaonema brevispathum, and two other plants (Pachira aquatica, also known as a Guiana chestnut, and Ficus benjamina, also known as a weeping fig) effectively removed air pollutants when they were placed by a window.”

Aglaonema is a good choice for folks who don’t have time to mess with keeping plants alive. The most negligent, however, might find a way to kill them. You’ll often find them in shopping mall planters, if that’s any indication of their ability to survive. The foliage is quite attractive.

Pachira aquatica is a good choice for people who have a tendency to care too much and over-water their plants. Its other common name is Money plant, perhaps because it is such a profitable item for commercial plant growers.

Weeping fig (Ficus benjamina) is so very popular it probably needs no introduction.

3. Snake plant

Stutzer wrote, “Snake plants, also known as Sansevieria trifasciata, can thrive inside and outside of the home. An article that was done by Japanese researchers for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that the snake plant is able to absorb multiple hazardous chemicals, leaving indoor spaces cleaner. The plant also requires little care to survive.” Her last sentence can not be overstated. These things grow wild as weeds in the Caribbean Islands. Heat, drought and abuse hardly phase them.

4. Peace lily

Peace lilies, (Spathiphyllum spp.), are superb indoors. They survive with very little light, but the soil should be kept barely moist to the touch. Stutzer cites a study completed for the Plants and Environmental Quality Group finding that peace lilies could remove airborne toxins. She also notes that Peace lilies “have been shown to help people recovering from abdominal surgery recover”, but there’s no indication how.

5. Chrysanthemum

“Chrysanthemum is another plant lauded by NASA scientists for its air cleaning abilities. Its air purifying capabilities also were observed by a group of researchers who wrote an article for the journal Ornamentals and Flowers,” she wrote. She also observed, “The plant is perfect for a bedroom setting because it can live in lower light conditions.”

I’m not so sure I agree with that since they are usually grown outdoors in higher light conditions. I suppose they could be kept indoors for awhile. Potted mums in bloom make fine table decorations, and the foliage is aromatic. Though she specifically mentions Chrysanthemum, Dendranthema has the same qualities. Dendranthema was reclassified; it was formerly a Chrysanthemum.

A popular sleep aid contains the following three ingredients.

As I write, I’m holding a bottle of a popular sleep aid that contains three ingredients believed by many (including me) to be safe and effective. It does not contain alcohol, and is “Drug Free.” It contains valerian, lavender and chamomile.

6. Valerian

Stutzer wrote, “Valerian is a perennial herb, or shrub. Its dried rhizome and roots are sometimes used in supplements. The evidence that supports Valerian as a sleep aid is inconclusive. A 2007 study in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews found that valerian may not significantly help people with insomnia sleep. However, a study in the journal Chemical Senses discovered that the inhalation of valerian  (when the plant is used as an odorant) could help people with insomnia sleep. People who inhaled that plant’s scent slept longer and better.” That could well be so. Valerian has a similar action upon the body as Valium, the synthetic drug.

7. Lavender

Lavender is well-known for its pleasant scent. “According to a 2013 study in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a handful of single-blind randomized studies” concluded that lavender “improved the mean scores of sleep quality” in some students, heart disease patients and persons with insomnia.

8. Chamomile

Chamomile is a well-known daisy-like flower that is favored for its sleep-inducing properties. The flowers contain terpenoids and flavonoids. Chamomile tea is one of the most popular ways to take it, but essential oil of chamomile is sometimes used as aromatherapy.

Frankly, I don’t know how valerian, lavender and chamomile would serve as houseplants. They would certainly be welcome additions to some outdoor gardens.

9. California poppy

The California poppy flower is used to treat nervousness and anxiety. This is another that I doubt could be grown successfully as a houseplant. Stutzer notes: “A 2014 study in the journal European Medicines Agency found that California poppy could improve sleep quality and duration.” I don’t doubt it. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a member of the Papaveraceae family. It contains the alkaloids chelirubine, sanguinarine and macarpine – all sleep-inducing agents. Incidentally, sanguinarine is known to inhibit cell growth in squamous cell carcinoma, but that’s another subject best left for later. (See article in

10. Aloe vera

Aloe vera is a popular that is known to have many medicinal properties. One such property has contributed to its name, “burn plant.” Application of the gel-like juice to a flesh burn helps reduce inflammation, and promotes healing. It is also known to have some sedative effect even when applied as a skin moisturizer. I’m not sure how one might use the Aloe vera plant grown in the bathroom window, but perhaps topical application of the gel might help.

One other plant not mentioned by Ms. Stutzer that’s known to aid sleep is:

11. Hop 

Humulus lupulus, the common hop used in beer-making. Well, no wonder beer makes one sleepy! Hop vines actually are lovely ornamentals when grown on trellises. Dried hops, lavender, chamomile, and valerian have been used for centuries as ingredients in “dream pillows” - little sachets used to induce peaceful, restful, (sigh)…. Sleep.

I must stress that nothing included in this or Ms. Stutzer’s article should be construed as medical advice. Always, always, always consult your doctor before using any purported remedy.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Zombie Deer Disease Apocalypse?

Deer with CWD.

Zombie Deer Disease Is Alarming

This article was passed along to me. It is disturbing. An infection called Chronic Wasting Disease is on the rise. It’s commonly called “zombie deer disease” because infected animals become very thin, disoriented, and have a vacant look in their eyes. “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been reported in at least 26 states in the continental United States and in four provinces in Canada”, the article reports.
“CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease found in deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and caribou. It is a progressive disease that is always fatal.” It is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as “mad cow disease”).
“The disease is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which are thought to cause damage to other normal prion proteins that can be found in tissues throughout the body. They are most often found in the brain and spinal cord, leading to brain damage and development of prion diseases. Infected brain cells eventually burst, leaving behind microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter that give it a ‘spongy’ look.”

Zombie Deer Disease Is Spreading

The disease is spread through saliva, feces and urine of infected animals. Contact with diseased tissue such as the brain, spinal cord and lymph nodes can also transmit it.
Prior to 2000, it was only documented in a few counties in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. It has now spread to areas as far east as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and as far south as Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. See this map for greater detail.

What does this have to do with gardeners?

Unfortunately, deer seem to be more prevalent in yards and gardens than ever before, even in urban areas. Until now, their depredations have been limited to vegetable patches and flower beds. Greater problems may arise.
Though experts say that CWD is not transmissible to humans at this time, the same was said about BSE a few years back. Then it was discovered that BSE could infect humans. So, scientists are being cautious.

How should we respond?

  • Don’t panic. Remember that there are no documented cases of Chronic Wasting Disease having been transmitted to humans. Furthermore, cases of CWD in the Cervidae family – deer, elk, moose, reindeer, etc. – are limited, at this time. Chances are your county doesn’t show up on the map. If it does, the number of cases are probably quite few. If you live in or near a county where CWD has been documented, you should:
  • Avoid contact with deer saliva, feces and urine. While it’s unlikely that a moose will lick you, or a deer pee on you, you or your children might find deer feces in your yard. Don’t touch it. (You wouldn't really, would you?)
  • Check with your state Department of Natural Resources Game and Wildlife Division for statements on CWD.
  • Hunters should wear gloves when field-dressing harvested deer, and avoid contact with brain, nerve and spinal cord tissue.
  • Hunters harvesting deer in areas where CWD has been documented should consider having the meat tested for the disease. “As a precaution, they should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified.”

For more information, read the following:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

7 Tips For Saving Water In Your Garden

Water sprinkler

During the hot, sometimes dry days of summer, the realization hits – often in the form of a water bill – that we should be cutting back on water use. But how? We check for dripping faucets, toilets that keep running, avoid washing the car, reducing time in the shower, or putting less water in the bath. Those are good things to do, but perhaps the answer is in our own backyards. Yes, and front yards, too. If we maintain any type of lawn or garden, we probably use more water there than anywhere else in the house.

Some solutions to problems may be immediate. Many require planning. Act now while your last water bill is fresh on your mind, and you’re sufficiently motivated.

Here are 7 tips for saving water in your garden.

  1. Water less frequently. “Well, duh!”, you might say. Fact is, though, most lawns, gardens and ornamental plants do not need to be watered every day. Instead of watering every day, water every other day. That could cut your outdoor water use in half. Allowing the soil to drain and feel dry to the touch before watering again is usually better for your plants, too. Mildew and root rot are usually associated with over-watering, so watering less may help to avoid plant diseases. Lawn grasses can undergo some drought stress, and still bounce back when rain returns. You can follow this tip today; it requires no planning.
  2. Recycle water. If you use a sprinkler system, place containers strategically to catch some of it for reuse. Collect rain water in rain barrels to siphon off or dip into later. There’s no sense in letting free water go to waste.
  3. Plant a rain garden. Rather than let perfectly good water run into drains, divert it into a rain garden specially designed as a basin to retain it. Best plant choices should include those that adapt to bogs, but will also tolerate brief dry periods.
  4. Mulch around your plants. This will immediately reduce soil exposure to the drying rays of sun. Mulch choices are many. Bark, wood chips, straw, hay, and grass clippings are popular. Select the one that looks best for your application. Neither does this require planning. Start today. FYI, Ruth Stout was a major influence in the organic gardening movement who taught the benefits of mulch. If you’ve never read her books and articles, you should.
  5. Garden in raised beds or containers. By doing so, you will irrigate targeted areas rather than broadly, potentially saving water. There’s no need to water between vegetable rows and on paved drives and walkways.
  6. Install drip irrigation. This is especially appropriate for raised beds and container gardening. Containers, in particular, are prone to drying more quickly. Here again, drip irrigation targets specific areas. A simple system can be quite inexpensive when compared to what you’ll spend on watering. Drip irrigation systems make use of tiny plastic emitters which dispense small amounts of water right where you need it most. An emitter might release as little as ½ gallon per hour, maybe 1 or 2 gallons per hour. PER HOUR! The savings is significant.
  7. Substitute drought-tolerant plants for the water-hungry species in your landscape. This doesn’t mean you are limited to cacti and succulents. A host of trees, shrubs, drought-tolerant perennials and ground covers are available for your garden. Look for them.

Speaking of ground covers, many are awesome substitutes for water-hungry lawn grasses. Mondo and liriope, low-growing junipers and euonymus are a few. Some tolerate foot traffic; some don’t. Few lend themselves to heavy use, such as games of badminton and foot races. But if you want to cover larger areas with something other than grass, and save water, consider ground cover plants.

Follow these simple tips for saving water in your garden. You'll save money, too!

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Behind The Garden Wall - The Portland Japanese Garden

The Portland Japanese Garden, set in the hills overlooking the city, provides a peaceful refuge for those seeking rest in an atmosphere of tranquility.  Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.

Portland Japanese Garden gate

To heal the wounds of war.

After the horrors of World War II, a number of Japanese gardens were planned in the United States as a way to heal the wounds of war, provide citizens with beautiful gardens, and promote cultural understanding. Portland Japanese Garden was one of those. Planning began about twelve years after the end of the Pacific War. It was hoped that “needing no translation, an American could experience firsthand Japanese ideals and values, communicated simply through nature.” Perhaps the irony was not lost on Allied veterans.

The idea was conceived by Mayor Terry Schrunk and other citizens of Portland. The chosen site was the original Washington Park Zoo. A few remnants of the old zoo remain. For example, the present-day koi pond was formerly the zoo’s original bear pit. In fact, the zoo began as a bear pit where unwanted bears were captured in the interest of public safety, and penned for public amusement. (Mayor Schrunk, once accused of perjury related to labor-racketeering, managed to avoid being penned.)

According to the garden’s literature, “The site was dedicated in 1961, and Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University was retained to design the Garden. Professor Tono’s plan included five different garden styles laid out on 5.5 acres. This was quite a departure from gardens in Japan which typically follow one singular style. His intention was to represent different historical developments in Japanese garden architecture and through that communicate Japanese culture to create a cultural exchange.” Professor Tono was one of the most revered landscape architects of his time in Japan.

The garden was finally opened to the public in 1967, though some portions were not completed until May 18, 1980. The completion was celebrated with some fanfare, but Mount St. Helens overshadowed the event with a big bang of its own.

A great deal has been written about Portland’s Japanese Garden, so there’s no point in reiterating much, but to say that the garden now consists of eight different Japanese garden styles on 12 acres. Some are pictured below.

I must remark that the staff people were very pleasant, and the docent who guided our tour was exceptionally knowledgeable and agreeable. She was, of course, an avid gardener with a great deal of personal experience to draw upon.

Here are some of my photographs, with a few comments. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Acer palmatum - negative space

Trees such as this Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) are carefully pruned to create negative space. Negative space becomes as much a feature of interest as the tree itself.

Portland Japanese Garden Zen Garden

The Sand and Stone Garden, seen from above. Zen gardens make use of sand, gravel and larger rocks to recreate natural scenes. Swirling patterns in sand suggest motion of water. Larger rocks suggest islands and mountains.

Portland Japanese Garden scene across a water feature

This lovely vista from the Strolling Pond Garden is probably one of the most photographed in the garden. When the docent said so, everyone snapped a picture, which further established its status.

Portland Japanese Garden scene

A view back across the water feature shown above.

The Flat Garden.

Wisteria arbor at Portland Japanese Garden

The beautiful wisteria arbor is supported by concrete posts molded with the texture of wood.

Azalea in bloom in the Portland Japanese Garden

May is an ideal time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden when azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.

Viburnum in bloom with Japanese maples.

Tea House at Portland Japanese Garden

A view across the Tea Garden. The Tea House provides visitors with a sense of settled peace and serenity.


Displays on the bonsai terrace

Scenes in the Natural Garden

The koi pond

A multi-tiered stone lantern set in a mossy lawn.

If planning to visit Oregon, the Portland Japanese Garden should be included in your itinerary. For visitors and residents of the city, the garden affords a unique opportunity to escape the insanity below.

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