Monday, May 31, 2010

Behind A Garden Wall: Nearer God's Heart

"One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth."

That sentence by Dorothy Frances Gurney from her poem, God's Garden, surely touches the hearts of many who stop to reflect and pray in Guido Gardens.  Hidden from traffic, the verdant, well-kept oasis offers a quiet place to the weary soul.

Michael Guido (1915-2009), a passionate ordained evangelist with a flair for capturing audiences (a dance-band leader by age 19), began his mass-media ministry, The Sower, in 1958 from a mobile radio studio.  Soon to follow was his Sowing and Reaping newspaper column.  In 1961, he and his wonderful wife, Audrey, settled in Metter, GA (population about 2360 at the time), where they built a radio studio on land that was offered to them on the outskirts of town.  The ministry eventually expanded to television.

Guido understood the modern mind, so he developed short, heart-felt messages for broadcast and print that used humor, brevity and truth to convey true Christianity.  Those brief messages he called "seeds."  The seeds sprouted.  The ministry grew to three daily radio broadcasts, more than 3,500 program releases each week, some of which had international exposure.  The Guidos were the first to produce a one-minute inspirational program for television, and now A Seed for the Garden of Your Heart is distributed to more than 1,500 stations.  That was accomplished with a staff of about a dozen volunteers.  Ultimately, Guido attributed it to "The Lord."

Guido Gardens was dedicated in 1976.  A prayer chapel was added to the garden in 1984.  Dr. and Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale participated in the chapel dedication.

Since 1991, Guido Gardens has been decorated during the Advent season with thousands of lights.  These "Nights Of Lights", like the garden, are free and open to the public.

In 2003, the Biblical Gardens section was added.  It features a "replica" of Christ's Empty Tomb and Joseph's Carpenter Shop.

Visitors will enjoy the flowers, "sparkling waterfalls, shimmering fountains, babbling brooks, lovely gazebos, inspiring music", inspirational plaques, sculptures and, of course, the chapel which is always open for prayer.  Every guest will be refreshed.

When we visited Guido Gardens during Holy Week, I expected to find it full of guests.  It was not.  On the one hand, I was a bit surprised that it was not heavily visited, but on the other, we enjoyed the beauty undisturbed.

Guido Gardens is located at 600 N. Lewis St., Metter, GA on the grounds of the Guido Evangelistic Association.  When you see the sign, stop in for a while, rest and enjoy what grows behind the garden wall.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solution Plants For Mucky Problems

A few days ago, I was asked for a solution to a mucky problem.  Water shedding off a roof was being dammed by a concrete walk.  The soil was usually muddy.  The homeowner had been unable to grow much of anything except for Florida Betony (Stachys floridana), a notorious weed.

Florida Betony is a plant in the Lamiaceae or Mint family which is very difficult to control.  It spreads by underground rhizomes and produces tubers that resemble fat white grubs.

Her gardener dug deeply to remove the weed and all its tubers.  Their plan was to install a french drain or dry well to improve drainage, then to add topsoil for a new perennial bed.  But the lot sloped downward from the bed, and they were afraid the topsoil would wash away.  What to do?

Well, yes, a french drain or dry well installed along with a few inches of steel edging inside the bed next to the walk might prevent the topsoil from eroding.  But perhaps there is an easier way.  I suggested that the homeowner turn the area into a rain garden.

Functionally, rain gardens are as natural as puddles and swamps, but they're intended.  It doesn't matter how small or large they may be. They collect rainfall, slow its drainage, allow it to percolate into the soil, and may even refresh subterranean aquifers.  They may also provide habitat for special plant and animal species.

For rain gardens to work and look good, they should be planted with appropriate species.  Lawn grasses usually don't succeed.  I suggested a few plants that would work; enough for the homeowner and her gardener to consider for the moment.

But yesterday, I reflected on a couple of my gardening truisms.
  • Find what works in nature and improve it.
  • A weed is a plant that is growing in the wrong place, or for which no one has found a use.
So I grabbed my camera, got in my pickup truck and drove along a country road to see what I might see.  I turned my attention to ditches.  Sure enough, I found several examples of plants with ornamental value that would be appropriate for bogs and rain gardens.  Not all were native.

Netted Chain Fern (Woodwardia areolata) - A deciduous fern that usually grows to 18", it's hardy in USDA climate zones 3 through 9.  It performs best in partial to full shade.

Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) - A deciduous fern that may grow from 36" to 72", is so named because of the tall, cinnamon-colored fertile leaves that emerge in spring.  It's hardy in climate zones 3 through 10, and performs best in partial to full shade.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) - A deciduous fern that grows from 24" to 48" or more.  It's hardy in climate zones 3 through 10, and thrives in full sun to partial shade.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) - A herbaceous perennial that grows to 30".  It's hardy in climate zones 4 through 8, and thrives in full sun.  Standing water is not a problem.

Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) - A herbaceous perennial that grows 48" or more.  It's hardy in climate zones 4 through 9, and thrives in full sun to partial shade.  Standing water is not a problem.

Ditch Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) - A popular "heirloom" daylily that's hardy in climate zones 5 through 10.  It performs well in full sun to partial shade.

Cannas (Canna x generalis) - Another popular herbaceous perennial, it's hardy in climate zones 8 through 10.  It performs well in full sun to partial shade.

Lizard's Tail, Water Dragon (Saururus cernuus) - This native, herbaceous perennial is seldom grown for it's ornamental qualities, but it should be.  It's hardy in climate zones 5 through 11.  It performs well in full sun to partial shade, and loves very wet soil.

Swamp Mallow, Hardy Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) - The species name sounds like "mosquitos"; both thrive in the same habitat.  A deciduous perennial, it loves full sun, and is hardy in climate zones 5 through 10.  The large flowers appear from mid-summer to fall.   I think that marshmallows were so-named because they resemble the spent flowers of this species.

River Lily (Crinum variabile) - Evergreen strap-like leaves and white or white/pink-striped flowers distinguish this beauty.  It's hardy in climate zones 7 or 8 through 11, and thrives in full sun to partial shade.

Common Rush (Juncus effusus) - Though seldom noticed, this one has lots of potential as an ornamental.  Some with interesting colors and growth habits are becoming available.  It's hardy in climate zones 4 through 10.  Grow it for the foliage, though the flowers are not unattractive.

Thus inspired by my little exploration, I'll occasionally publish lists of other solution plants for muddy places.

I've often declared, sometimes with tongue in cheek, that many weeds might be controlled if they could be eaten.  It's a hungry world.  In fact, that could be the case with Florida Betony.  I've learned that the tubers are edible - said to be delicious eaten raw or sauteed.  Surely there must be some marketing angle.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bold, Tropical Elephant Ears

Bold, tropical, impressive and sometimes tremendous.  This describes Elephant Ears.  They belong to the Araceae family along with Acorus, Arisaema, Dieffenbachia, Philodendron, Zantedeschia and voodoo lilies - interesting relatives, indeed.  Various Elephant Ear genera include Alocasia, Caladium, Colocasia, Cyrtosperma, Remusatia and Xanthosoma.  Elephant ears capture attention.  The largest are as conspicuous as pachyderms in the landscape, some growing as tall as 12'.  The smaller ones, such as Caladium, make up for their small size with lots of color.  (Caladiums have different growing requirements which are discussed in my other blog article, Fancy Leaf Caladiums.)

One species, Colocasia esculenta, or Taro, has been used as food for centuries throughout tropical regions of the world. Stems and corms are usually eaten, though the leaf is also edible.  It's important to note, however, that the plant is toxic when raw because of the presence of calcium oxalate.  Cooking destroys the toxin.

Most of us know Elephant Ears best for their ornamental value.  They are hardy in USDA climate zones 8 to 11. Gardeners in colder climates lift and store them over winter for planting the following spring.  They're great for bog and water gardens, and even for container gardens.

Most Alocasia and Colocasia may be planted outdoors 10" deep and 18" to 36" apart when danger of frost is past. Some such as Colocasia 'Illustris' and C. 'Black Magic' do not produce large corms, so the base of the stems should only be planted at soil level.

Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Soil should be consistently moist.  Do not allow the soil to dry out.  Soil pH should range from 6.1 to 7.5.  To determine pH and fertilizer needs, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis.  The basic test will cost a few dollars.  Follow the recommendations.  Do not allow synthetic granular fertilizer to come into contact with plant tissue.

If grown outdoors in containers, keep in mind that the large leaves may catch the wind and be blown over, so choose large, stable growing pots.  I recommend using pots that are at least 18" in diameter, and as deep.  Use a good grade potting soil that is light in texture and high in organic matter.

Water thoroughly after planting.  Top growth is usually apparent 4 to 8 weeks after planting.

In addition to having high moisture requirements, Elephant Ears are heavy feeders.  Fertilize every 3 or 4 weeks with your favorite liquid fertilizer, following label instructions.

For a bold, tropical statement in your landscape, Elephant Ears are the plants of choice.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lawn Marshpennywort For Wet Places

Lawn Marshpennywort is a solution plant for wet places.  As anyone who has such a site can attest, lawn grass doesn't perform well in water.  But Lawn Marshpennywort does.  It goes by the botanical name, Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides (pronounced hi-droh-KOT-il-lee sib-thorp-ee-OH-eye-dees), which means "water cup resembling Sibthorpia."  The genus, Sibthorpia, was named after John Sibthorp, an 18th century English botanist.

Native to parts of east Asia, Hydrocotyle was introduced to North America and found some areas of the continent very much to its liking.  It is now naturalized east of the Mississippi River from Indiana to New Jersey and southward to Florida.  It is also found in Arkansas, Louisiana, California and Hawaii.

Hydrocotyle is a relative of fennel and celery in the Apiaceae family.  Insignificant pale green flowers are produced mid-spring to mid-summer.  It grows very low, spreads very quickly, and forms a dense carpet.  Mature height is only 1".

I have often argued that a weed is simply a plant that is in the wrong place, or for which one is ignorant of a use.  So Hydrocotyle is sometimes considered to be a weed, and invasive at that.  But it depends upon your perspective.  It certainly makes a fine ground cover and lawn substitute in soggy areas.  Furthermore, it is said to be edible either cooked or raw, and tastes something like parsley.  It has been used in oriental medicine to purify the blood and to reduce fever.

The glossy green or variegated foliage makes an attractive mat that looks great around water features, stream banks and container gardens.  Hydrocotyle is also quite suitable for terrariums.  For collectors of herbs with medicinal interest, it's a natural.

Hydrocotyle performs best in sun or light shade in moist to wet soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  It is hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 9.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The fee is nominal, but that's because you're already paying for their services with your tax dollars.  (Use it or lose it.)  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

It is often impossible, even unnecessary, to cultivate wet soils.  To kill existing, unwanted vegetation, you may wish to use glyphosate herbicide.  Take care, however, that the chemical does not leach into ponds, lakes and waterways.  Always wear protective clothing and follow all label instructions.  When the unwanted vegetation turns brown, plant your lawn marshpennywort directly into the site.

Space the plants 24" to 30" apart. Dig planting holes into the 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" deep.

Plant Hydrocotyle with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly.

This is a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  If you are concerned about it spreading too far, establish its limits.  For ponds, stream banks, water gardens and wet sites with poor drainage, Hydrocotyle is an excellent choice.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Wormwood In Legend, Liquid And Garden

Few herbs have been so steeped in legend and liquid as Wormwood.  The botanical name of the genus is Artemisia (pronounced ar-te-MIZ-ee-ah, or ar-tuh-MEEZ-yuh, in the South).  Artemisia is in the Asteraceae or daisy family.  There are over 200 species native to the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.  Most are found in dry climates.  Many of the species are known for their volatile oils useful for medicine and flavoring.

As the name suggests, Artemisia might have been named for the Greek goddess Artemis, also known among Romans as Diana, goddess of the hunt.  Artemis was a vindictive charmer.  Though newly born, she observed the difficult birth of her twin brother, Apollo, and helped her mom, Leto, deliver.  So traumatized by the pain which her mother experienced, Artemis vowed to remain unmarried and childless.  Celibacy, however, was not part of her vow.

Insults, real or imagined, stirred her wrath.  She was especially protective of her mother.  Proud Niobe, daughter of Tantalus, made the mistake of insulting Leto, so Artemis assassinated all her children.  Tityus tried to rape Leto, and paid with his life.  Actaeon, who accidentally saw Artemis naked, was turned into a stag and torn apart by hounds.

Artemis was passionately in love with young Dardamis of Abydos.  He, however, failed to appreciate her beauty and return her affection.  As her final act of cruelty, she poked his eyes out while he slept, then committed suicide.

Artemis, goddess of the moon and of the hunt, was worshiped throughout the Greco-Roman world, principally at Ephesus and Marseilles.  She was also the patron goddess of amazons and unmarried women.  Human sacrifices, presumably male, may have been among the ceremonies.

But there was another Artemis for whom the plant might have been named:  Artemisia II of Carius.  This stunning beauty was wife and sister of King Mausolus.  She was an unusually able queen and admiral of her own fleet.  Botany and plant collecting were among her interests.  Upon the death of her husband, she was stricken with such extraordinary grief that she mixed some of his ashes with her daily draught.  To preserve his memory, she commissioned the building of a majestic monument, a mausoleum, at Halicarnassus to his honor.  Artemis II never saw it completed.  She died in 350 BC, two years after her husband.

Now, Artemisia, the genus, is as legendary.  Two common names, Wormwood and Mugwort, are shared among many of the species, indicating some uses.  Wormwood is derived from Artemisia's use as a repellant of moths, fleas and worms.  Mugwort is derived from its use as a flavoring in beverages, particularly beer and wine.  It was originally an ingredient in vermouth.

A. annua, Sweet Wormwood, is an ingredient in anti-malarial therapy.

A. arborescens, Tree Wormwood, is native to the Middle East.  Very bitter, it is mixed with mint to concoct a drink appropriately known in Israel as Shiva, or "Queen of Sheba."

In addition to its use as a vermifuge, A. absinthium was the key ingredient in absinthe - that notorious green spirit favored by bohemians which was said to eventually caused blindness, abstract paintings and lunarcy.

A. dracunculus, also known as Tarragon, is a mild-flavored wormwood often used as a culinary herb.  In fact, I shall use some tonight on my grilled sea trout.

A. stelleriana (Dusty Miller) and A. schmidtiana are popular ornamental plants.  They are often planted in "moon gardens" because of their silvery sheen and association with Artemis, goddess of the moon.

Artemisia has been used to wean children from their mother's breasts by rubbing the bitter extract on nipples.  Fair Juliet was ablactated just so.

Tis since the earthquake now eleven years,
And she was weaned—I never shall forget it—
Of all the days of the year, upon that day.
For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,
Sitting in the sun under the dovehouse wall.
My lord and you were then at Mantua.—
Nay, I do bear a brain.—But, as I said,
When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool,
To see it tetchy and fall out with the dug!
Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 3

A. vulgaris contains thujone, which is also found in arborvitae (meaning "tree of life").  Arborvitae (Thuja or Platycladus) shrubs are often planted in cemeteries as symbols.  Anyway, thujone is claimed to have many healing properties, and may actually possess them.  But it can be toxic.  Oh well, of such is life.

Speaking of toxic, A. vulgaris is also referred to in the Ukrainian name, Chernobyl, which means "place where the mugwort grows."  Mugwort is known to be an invasive weed that inhabits waste places.  The notorious site was named Chernobyl, perhaps prophetically, before the nuclear (properly pronounced NEW-kew-lahr) meltdown.

The same species has been used to flavor roasted Christmas geese, to smoke, and to tuck into pillows to induce vivid dreams.  Its common names include Felon Herb, Sailor's Tobacco, and Naughty Man - all of which suggest trickery and something to be avoided.

In addition to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, wormwood has figured in other great literary works such as C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rowling's The Draught of Living Death, and in St. John's Revelation.

species are suitable for perennial borders, herb gardens, fragrance gardens, butterfly gardens and container gardens.  Most are semi-evergreen to evergreen, depending upon the climate zone.  Height varies.

Artemisia thrives in well-drained to dry soil.  Take care not to over-water.  There is little need to fertilize.  Hardiness and pH range vary by species.  Since Artemisia is drought tolerant, it's perfect for xeriscaping.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. A little compost may be incorporated into the soil.

Plant spacing varies by species. 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" deep.

Plant Artemisia with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  If you do fertilize, do so sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Artemisia benefits from occasional pruning, but take care not to cut back into old wood.  Prune only during the growing season; do not prune in fall or winter.

Artemisia has no serious pests or diseases, and deer don't like it.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Certainly, a plant as interesting as Artemisia should be in your garden.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Donna's Garden

When the McKenna's moved from backcountry Maine to southeast Georgia, they thought they had reached civilization at last.  But Brooklet is one of the quietest towns I know.  It's the slow, gentle pace of life that gives one time to work in the garden, think and be creative.

Donna, the lady of the house, is known for her thrift and exuberance.  Her well-known book, The $30 a Week Grocery Budget, first published in 1991, is a favorite of prudent homemakers.  She admits that the budget might be increased to $50 a week, but probably won't.  That's thrift.  Donna's exuberance shows in her hospitality with the table nearly groaning under the weight of food.  How does she do it?

Her garden reflects her character.  Nearly every plant was obtained for free, or propagated.  She, in turn, generously gives plants away, especially Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus).

Her husband, John, is a plant enthusiast.  Having worked around nurseries, he has brought home all kinds of seeds, bulbs and cuttings.  John, native to New Jersey,has been a licensed tour guide in Savannah, Georgia.  I bet he's always peeking into gardens en route.

Most of her acquisitions are old-fashioned varieties, their names often unknown to her.   Attractive weeds like spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) and Viola species grow in wild profusion along with cannas, crocosmia, daylilies, iris, roses and yarrow (Achillea spp.).  English boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa') line paths paved with recycled brick.  Snowrose (Serissa foetida) softens and fills bare corners.  Mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) beckons the nose.

Flower bulbs including shamrock (Oxalis spp.), Amaryllis (Hippeastrum cvs.), narcissus, lilies and bluebells (Hyacinthoides) pop up everywhere.  Escaped house plants (Setacea and Saxifraga stolonifera) have made themselves at home outdoors.  Conifers such as cedars (Cedrus deodora) and Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) punctuate the landscape.  Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), chocolate vine (Akebia quinata), creeping fig (Ficus pumila), wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), and Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) drape from porches, trellises and trees.  It's a joyful sight.

As we walked to the vegetable and herb garden, Donna had to show me what they had uncovered: spicebush (Lindera benzoin).  I explained how to make tea from it.

The raised bed vegetable garden is planted with garlic, arugula and rhubarb, along with more conventional plants.  Of course, herbs are grown not only in the herb garden, but in clay pots, decorative containers, and tucked into every imaginable crevice.  Mint seems to be Donna's ground cover of choice.

Whimsical sculptures, fountains and furnishings express Donna's effervescence.  A rain barrel is a sign of her care.

In another town, you might pass a garden like Donna's without noticing it.  Very old camellias screen some of it from the street.  But this is Brooklet, GA where everyone drives slowly.  So if you pass the McKenna house, you'll certainly be tempted to wonder what grows behind that evergreen wall.

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Monday, May 3, 2010

An Impression of Appleblossom Grass

More than anything, I must have flowers, always, always.
--Claude Monet

Though it's doubtful he knew of it, Appleblossom Grass would have delighted Monet.  Native to Texas and Louisiana, it produces tall stems to 24" bearing white to pink flowers resembling apple blossoms which flutter like butterflies over the landscape from summer to fall.  Their fleeting, impressionistic quality is enchanting.

Appleblossom Grass was formerly known as Guara lindheimeri, but is now included in the genus OenotheraOenothera means "having to do with wine."  It has been suggested that the name comes from the fact that the root of the edible species, Oenothera biennis, was once used to flavor wine.  (I can't imagine why.)  The species is named in honor of Ferdinand Lindheimer, German botanist, revolutionary and political exile, who collected plants for Asa Gray of Harvard University.

For native plant enthusiasts, Appleblossom Grass is a natural.  The species is beautiful enough, but new varieties including 'Siskiyou Pink', 'Whirling Butterflies' and 'Passionate Blush' are growing in popularity.

Appleblossom Grass is perfect for naturalizing in wildflower meadows, being deer resistant and drought tolerant.  It's perfect for xeriscaping.  It also adds charm to perennial gardens.  'Passionate Blush' blossoms last longer than those of other guara, so are better for cut flower arrangements.

Appleblossom Grass thrives in USDA climate zones 6 through 9.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Average well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.6 to 8.5 is fine.  Plants can be set any time you have a trowel handy.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  They often provide collection bags.  With each soil sample, indicate the type of plant you intend to grow in it.  For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee.  For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  Adjust soil pH according to soil test results.  Your soil sample report will also include fertilizer recommendations.  Following instructions is always a good bet.  A fine all-around practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet area.  Be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Appleblossom Grass looks great planted with cosmos, coreopsis, coneflower, daylily, black-eye susan, yarrow, salvia and mullein.  If you live in a zone where Appleblossom grass can be grown, add it to your garden for a very special impression.

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