Saturday, June 29, 2013

Can I move my amaryllis in summer?

Q. I have amaryllis bulbs planted in my garden. They never become fully dormant even in winter, but they bloom okay every spring. I need to move some of them. Can I move them even though the leaves are still green?

A. Yes, you can move your amaryllis (Hippeastrum) even in summer. I suggest you dig up as much of the soil around them as possible to avoid disturbing the roots. Dig another hole the same size at the site where you intend to transplant them, then carefully drop the root ball in the empty hole. Water well when complete. You shouldn't have any problems.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How To Create A Marian (Mary) Garden

This article is about how to create a Marian Garden, id est a Mary Garden. If you're looking for a short article, this isn't it.

"What", you may ask, "is a Marian Garden (i.e. Mary Garden)?".

A Marian Garden (i.e. Mary Garden) is a garden created to remember fondly and/or highly esteem any of the following, depending on your perspective:
  • Miriam, the sister of Moses;
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary (i.e. BVM);
  • Mary the Mother of God (i.e. Theotokos);
  • Mary, Jesus' mother (i.e. Theotokos);
  • Mary, Jesus' mother (i.e. Theotokos) and also of a couple of other sons;
  • An honored woman you remember named Mary;
  • Your landlady named Marian or Mary.
When planning a Marian garden, there are a few of things to consider:

The Name

As I mentioned before, there may be many references to Marys. Yours should honor the Mary you admire most.

The History

There's no telling of the first Marian gardens. They probably began with a few plants noticed along the way or in gardens and used as teaching tools, i.e. object lessons from nature. There are a few historical references to them, but none before the advent of Christianity. I believe they became very popular, though secretly (i.e. without statuary), among Roman Catholics, especially in England during Great Harry's reign, then not so secretive during Mary's reign, then much more secretive during Elizabeth's reign.

A Marian garden is alluded to in that sarcastic nursery rhyme,

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids (or lady bells) all in a row.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The words vary, and the meaning is unclear, but there are double entendres aplenty. It might refer either to Mary Stuart's execution or Mary Tudor's death, or perhaps to Mary Tudor's persecution of Protestants. Both were Roman Catholics. I tend to believe it has to do with Mary Stuart. The reference to Marian gardens is clear. Silver bells might have referred to plants such Ornithogalum nutans, white Campanula, Leucojum or Galanthus species and also to altar bells.

Agrostemma githago

The cockle shell might have been the common cockleflower or corn cockle (Agrostemma githago), but certainly referred to the cockle shells worn by pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.

Pilgrim at Santiago de Compostela
"Pretty maids" or "lady bells" might have referred to Ladybells (Adenophera stricta) and also to ladys-in-waiting attending the doomed.

The Setting

Traditional Marian gardens are set in places that allow for meditation and include plants that are somehow related by history or legend to the name of Mary.

I know of a Marian garden set in an otherwise empty lot without shade under the hot summer sun somewhere near here in south Georgia. Mary wouldn't like it any more than Egypt, and I never see the owner out there, either. So I suggest your Marian Garden be established in the shade so it can be enjoyed.

I've seen Marian gardens in front yards for all the world to see. I don't understand that at all because the front yard is no place to meditate. Pray and meditate in secret. (See Matthew 6:6.) I suggest your Marian garden be in an appropriate place, preferably walled about.

The Layout

Depending on your situation, you might design a knot garden, box garden, water garden, herb garden, woodland walk or a collection of pots and baskets for a container garden. Just say "no" to labyrinths.

The Plants

Here's where it gets interesting. None but frankincense (Boswellia spp.) and myrrh (Commiphora spp.) have any biblical association with Mary. But there is a heavenly host of plants you might include in your Marian garden that are drawn from tradition. It seems Roman Catholics saw Mary in everything. Protestants have never been so imaginative.

Alchemilla mollis
Alchemilla mollis, aka *Lady's Mantle.

Amaryllis belladonna, aka Beautiful Lady.

Aquilegua vulgaris, aka Columbine, *Lady's Shoes.

Calendula officinalis, aka Marigold or Mary's Gold.

Campanula medium, aka Canterbury Bells, Our Lady's Nightcap, Mary Bells, Our Lady's Smock. These names may have had something to do with the aforementioned queens.

Centaurea cyannis, aka Bachelor's Buttons, Mary's Crown.

Clematis virginiana, aka Virgin's Bower.

Convallaria majalis
Convallaria majalis, aka Lily-Of-The-Valley, *Lady's Tears.

Cyperus papyrus, aka Bulrush. They grew like water weeds in Egypt. Miriam wove them into a basket to save her baby brother, Moses, to the world's advantage.

Dicentra spectabilis, aka Bleeding Heart, Mary's Heart.

Glechoma hederacea, aka Hedgemaids, Madonna's Herb.

Gypsophila paniculata, aka Mary's Veil.

Ipomea purpurea, aka Morning Glory, *Lady's Mantle.

Lilium candidum, aka Madonna Lily.

Matthiola incana, aka Stock, *Our Lady's Violet.

Mentha requienii, aka Mother-Of-Thousands.

Nymphaea alba, aka Water Lily, *Lady-of-the-Lake.

Ornithogalum umbellatum, aka Star-of-Bethlehem.

Paeonia spp., aka Mary's Rose.

Primula vulgaris, aka *Lady's Frills.

Pulmonaria officinalis
Pulmonaria officinalis, aka Mary's Milkdrops, Mary's Tears.

Rosa spp., roses of different colors symbolizing the BVM's life events or attributes such as visitation, purity, sorrow, glory.

Scabiosa columbaria, aka Pincushion Flower, Mary's Pincushion.

Tradescantia virginiana, aka Spiderwort, *Lady's Tears.

Viola tricolor, aka *Lady's Delight.

(*During the Reformation, Counter-reformation, and Re-Reformation many given names were commonly known as "Lady's" this or that, shortened from "Our Lady's" this or that to avoid arrest. The practice continues, but not due to the threat of arrest.)

For a more complete history and list of plants associated with Mary and Christian themes, I recommend you visit the Mary Gardens page at

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Must-Have Plants: Convallaria majalis

Convallaria majalis

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Convallaria majalis, also known as European Lily of the Valley, May Bells and Our Lady's Tears, is a lush, deciduous ground cover that produces fragrant, white, bell-shaped flowers in late spring. Uses include massed planting, ground cover, shade gardens, woodland gardens, medicinal gardens, Bible gardens, Marian gardens, perennial gardens, perennial borders.

Name(s): Convallaria majalis, European Lily of the Valley, May Bells, Our Lady's Tears

Flower Color: White

Bloom Time: Mid-spring to early summer.

Foliage: Herbaceous, medium green.

Height/Spread: 6 inches to 9 inches x 4 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Average, well-drained, loamy, pH 5.6 to 7.5

Features: Fragrant, bell-shaped flowers, deer resistant, spreading, no significant pests and diseases.

Uses: Massed planting, ground cover, shade gardens, woodland gardens, medicinal gardens, Bible gardens, Marian gardens, perennial gardens, perennial borders.

Convallaria majalis ground cover
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Why aren't all my shrimp plants blooming alike?

Shrimp plants in containers
Q. I have some shrimp plants growing in pots while others are growing in my garden. The ones in pots have lots of foliage and very few flowers. The ones in the garden have less foliage but loads of flowers. Why aren't all my shrimp plants blooming alike?

A. A few factors might be influencing your shrimp plants' (Justicia brandegeeana) foliage and flower. The ones in pots look like they have been pruned while the ones in the garden have not. That would account for the compactness of the potted plants. Pruning might also have removed emerging flower bracts.

Soil fertility and pH might be factors. Some rapidly growing plants are so busy producing foliage they don't have time to settle down and bloom. Soil pH should range between 6.1 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. If you've been regularly fertilizing the potted plants, stop it for awhile.

Shrimp plants in the garden
Some plants under stress will become more active reproductively, i.e. flower more. Perhaps the shrimp plants in your garden are experiencing more stress due to less soil fertility, greater sun exposure and general lack of attention. However, leaf color looks good in both examples so I think your plants are healthy enough. Your potted shrimp plants will probably flower plenty as the season progresses. I bet you'll be attracting many hummingbirds this year.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

How To Make A Fairy Garden

When I was but a wee slip of a child, my aunt would take me to the edge of the woods to show me where fairies lived. We never actually saw fairies with wings and such, though she assured me they were watching us if they weren't sleeping.

Puck: Sometime a horse I'll be, sometime a hound,
A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;
And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,
Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

What's more, fairies can change form, so we weren't sure if the toads we sometimes uncovered were really fairies after all. Anyway, she showed me little pools of water where they swam, leaf tips where they showered, their dwellings in holes between tree roots, and fairy rings where they gathered after dark and danced the night away with wild abandon.

Fairies dancing with wild abandon.

Grown-ups tend to forget about fairies, but the magic can be rekindled and shared with others in a fairy garden. Here are some thoughts on how to make a fairy garden.

Fairy gardens are of two types: imaginary and real. Imaginary fairy gardens are those that you never actually expect fairies to visit. They're created for people to enjoy looking at. They are by far the safest. Real fairy gardens are created for the purpose of attracting fairies to visit and haunt. They have their differences, but both share many characteristics, which I'll mention as I go on.

Imaginary fairy gardens can be created just about anywhere, even in high-traffic areas like patios and decks, in containers and garden beds. But fairies like secrecy, so real fairy gardens must be situated in out-of-the-way places. That's one of the main differences.

Imaginary fairy gardens are often created to scale, sort of like the landscapes you'd see around model train sets. Scale is usually suggested by features like fairy statuary, structures and furnishings. Everything should look appropriate to the scale of the surroundings.

Do not think the fairies are always little. Everything is capricious about them, even their size. They seem to take what size or shape pleases them

Except for the fact that fairies are generally thought of as "wee folk", i.e. smaller than humans, they come in many sizes. Sometimes fairies can even change sizes at will, so scale is not so important with real fairy gardens.

Imaginary fairy garden.

Since imaginary fairy gardens aren't intended to be used by fairies, features such as hovels, furnishings, wishing wells, etc. don't need to be functional. For example, doors and windows may be painted on tree trunks. However, real fairy garden dwellings and furnishings, even if made of found objects, should be usable though simple.

Imaginary fairy gardens are created for viewing by people, so they're easier to be enjoyed if elevated like model train sets. Raised beds and container gardens are nice. Real fairy gardens need not be elevated, but may be. People may stand up, stumble upon or get down on their knees or bellies to peer into real fairy gardens. But, fairies are creatures like butterflies and birds, so vantage is not an issue for them.

Plants for imaginary fairy gardens should be chosen to suit the desired scale. All must be relatively small. They need not actually appeal to fairies. Choosing them requires some thought.

Trees and shrubs chosen to scale should be very small ones. Some dwarf shrubs may be trained as cute little trees, much like bonsai. Possible choices include:
  • Ardisia - Ardisia crenata.
  • Dwarf Arborvitae - Thuja occidentalis 'Caespitosa', Thuja occidentalis 'Danica', Thuja occidentalis 'Little Gem', Thuja occidentalis 'Pendula', Thuja plicata 'Cuprea'.
  • Dwarf Azalea - Rhododendron impeditum.
  • Dwarf Boxwood - Buxus microphylla var. japonica 'Morris Dwarf', Buxus sempervirens 'Blauer Heinz', Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'.
  • Dwarf Crepe Myrtle - Lagerstroemia x 'World's Fair'.
  • Dwarf Dogwood - Cornus canadensis.
  • Dwarf Hinoki Cypress - Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lutea Nana', Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue'.
  • Dwarf Japanese Cedar - Cryptomeria japonica 'Knaptonensis', Cryptomeria japonica 'Tansu'.
  • Dwarf Juniper - Juniperus squamata 'Blue Starlite', Juniperus horizontalis 'Glauca', Juniperus procumbens 'Nana', Juniperus scopulorum 'Repens', Juniperus taxifolia var Lutchuensis.
  • Dwarf Maple - Acer palmatum 'Ara tama', Acer palmatum 'Kandy Kitchen', Acer palmatum 'Mikawa Yatsabusa', Acer palmatum 'Murasaki Kiyohime', Acer palmatum 'Shaina'.
  • Dwarf Pine - Pinus contorta 'Spaans Dwarf', Pinus mugo 'Gnom', Pinus mugo 'Valley Cushion', Pinus mugo 'Spring Snow', Pinus parviflora 'Adcocks Dwarf', Pinus sylvestris 'Kluis Pyramid'.
  • Dwarf Spruce - Picea abies 'Coolwyn Globe', Picea abies 'Frohberg', Picea abies 'Pygmaea', Picea pungens 'Procumbens'.
  • Rose - Rosa 'The Fairy', Rosa 'Noala', Rosa 'Interdust', Rosa 'Euphoria', Rosa 'Gwent'.
  • Sand Myrtle - Leiophyllum buxifolium.
There are many ground covers suitable for imaginary fairy gardens. They include:

Lily of the Valley - Convallaria majalis
  •  Ardisia - Ardisia japonica.
  • CreepingThyme - Thymus citriodorus 'Archer's Gold', Thymus serpyllum 'Elfin', Thymus serpyllum 'Pink Chintz'.
  • DaylilyHemerocallis ‘Little Wart’, Hemerocallis 'Mini Stella', Hemerocallis 'Stella d' Oro', Hemerocallis 'Ruby Stella'.
  • Ground moss - Thuidium delicatulum, Hypnum imponens, Leucobryum spp., Scleranthus biflorus.
  • Lily Of The Valley - Convallaria majalis.
  • Mazus - Mazus reptans.
  • Mondo Grass - Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'.
  • Sedum - Sedum acre var. aurea, Sedum hispanicum var. minus, Sedum makinoi 'Limelight', Sedum makinoi 'Ogon', Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood', Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut', Sedum spurium 'John Creech', Sedum tetractinum.
  • Spike Moss - Selaginella kraussiana, Selaginella moellendorffii, Selaginella tamariscina, Selaginella uncinata.
  • Wintergreen - Gaultheria procumbens.
  • Yarrow - Achillea millefolia, Achillea x 'Oertel's Rose'.
Appropriate flower bulbs include:

Bluebell - Hyacinthoides
  • Anemone - Anemone blanda.
  • Bluebell - Hyacinthoides spp.
  • Crocus - Crocus spp.
  • Cyclamen - Cyclamen hederifolium.
  • Fairy Lily, Rain Flower, Zephyr Lily - Zephyranthes spp.
  • Fritillary - Fritillaria meleagris, Fritillaria michailovskyi.
  • GrapeHyacinth - Muscari spp.
  • HardyGloxinia - Incarvillea delavayi.
  • Iris - I. danfordiae, I. histrioides, I. reticulata, I. cristata.
  • Lily - Lilium 'Butter Pixie', Lilium 'Crimson Pixie', Lilium 'Denia Pixie', Lilium 'Orange Pixie'.
  • Narcissus - 'Baby Moon', 'Hawera', 'Jenny', 'Jetfire', 'Pipit', 'Tete a Tete', 'Thalia'.
  • Shamrock - Oxalis spp.
  • Snowdrops - Galanthus spp.
  • Snowflake - Leucojum spp.
  • Squill - Scilla spp., Pushkinia spp.
  • StarFlower - Ipheion uniflorum.
  • Star-Of-Bethelem - Ornithogalum spp.
  • Summer Hyacinth - Galtonia spp.
  • Tritelia - Tritelia laxa.
  • TroutLily, Dog-Tooth Violet - Erythronium spp.
  • Tulip - Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder', Tulipa batalinii 'Bright Gem' and 'Red Gem', Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty', Tulipa linifolia, Tulipa x 'Little Princess'.
  • Winter Aconite - Eranthis hyemalis.
You don't have to be so careful choosing plants for a real fairy garden, for real fairies don't care much about landscaping fashion and design to be happy. All they need are rudimentary things, which they can find for themselves. But they can be lured, if you dare, to inhabit places nearby where you can enjoy them or, at least, hope they appreciate your hospitality.

Fairies favor quiet and hidden places, shade, fungi, holes in the ground between tree roots, small still water puddles like seeps or those in the hollows of big magnolia petals and leaves, foxgloves, coral bells, columbine, violets, ferns, lavender, forget-me-nots, rosemary, and nearly whatever appeals to you, too. They don't need freshly washed pillows and sheets.

I feel I should mention the matter of invasive species, human, plant and otherwise.

Imaginary fairy gardens are sure to draw human visitors. They may outstay their welcomes. That's something you'll have to deal with.

Whether plants are invasive depends on whether they stay where you want them. Ground covers do what they do best; they cover ground. Introduced species are often maligned, but native species are not always benign. The choice is yours. Keep them in check.

Real fairy gardens don't take much work for real fairies don't care much. They seldom pay attention to us unless they're annoyed. Fairies, especially of the Seelie Court, may be benevolent, but they can be charming and bothersome like devils.

Puck: Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down:
I am fear'd in field and town:
Goblin, lead them up and down.
- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

They can cause us to wonder too much, doubt ourselves, mess with our minds, tempt us to believe bad is good. Take care; know they're there. 

If they become invasive, place an iron fence around your yard.

...he made the sign of the cross and bid them begone in God's name, and held his wife as if it was iron his arms were made of. Bedad, in one moment everything was as silent as the grave...
- Andrew Lang, The Lilac Fairy Book, The Fairy Nurse

And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and as the vessel of a potter they shall be broken...
                                                                  - Revelation 2:27      
Fairies will not go near iron.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Behind A Garden Wall: Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum

As stated on the Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum website, "The mission of Ecotat Trust is to preserve and expand the gardens and trails for the enjoyment and use of future generations. The name 'Ecotat' was formed by combining portions of the words 'ecological' and 'habitat' - words describing the 91 acres of land located on Route 2 in Hermon, Maine, at the intersection with Annis Road at the top of Miller Hill." With that information, a Google map and GPS in hand, we found it.

CityProfile describes the Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum as "one of the most beautiful gardens in Maine." That's stretching it a lot. It's a former homestead, a small place maintained by volunteers. More volunteers are apparently needed. The place appears run-down, but there is some charm, somewhat like exploring a great-aunt's back yard out in the country. Lovely perennials mixed with grass and weeds, like irises with dandelions and lamiastrum with poison ivy, and ferns spread beneath trees and around old farm tools.

She would be an imaginative aunt. The landscape features a fairy garden with small plants and statuary. A raised bed presents a miniature landscape with a fairy house made of a tree knot, carved and roofed, with steps to a winding gravel path. The path leads through mosses, miniature spruces and tiny forbs to an itty-bitty gazebo, its roof caved in.

Comfrey, lupines, false solomon's seal, convallaria, tulips and johnny-jump-ups, european ginger, pig-squeak and blood-root seem to grow where ever they want, or where ever they were dropped or planted. As with any old homestead, you'll find bird houses atop leaning poles, arbors and some appealing statuary. Someone even included an allee or two.

A couple of trails wind through ferny woods and skunk cabbage. Somewhere along Tom's Trail, it's plain where Tom stopped working a long time ago, leaving his gloves and buckets of debris to mold. From that point, the trail is not so well-defined. Though we walked on a bit, growing swarms of mosquitoes forced us back.

Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum is definitely a work in progress going on eighteen-plus years. Progress is slow. Blog readers who live in the area might consider contacting Ecotat to volunteer their services. Many of the links on the Ecotat Home Page don't function, but the phone numbers might work.

After taking a few more photos, we strolled through a decrepit apple orchard, the ground littered with fallen apple petals to the car.

Would I recommend you visit Ecotat Gardens and Arboretum? Sure. It's sweet and nostalgic, kind of like stepping back in time to visit your old aunt.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why did my terra cotta pots break in winter?

Photo by from Pexels

Q. I moved from Florida to Vermont last summer. I planted some evergreen junipers and arborvitae in terra cotta pots. All of the pots broke during winter. Why?

A. More than likely the pots broke due to freezing temperatures. Moisture in the potting soil and in the terra cotta containers expands when frozen. Terra cotta will break easily when the moisture expands. I suggest you use containers made of more forgiving materials such as wood, rubber, plastic, fiberglass, metal or glazed clay.

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