Monday, December 14, 2020

Celebrate The Twelve Days of Christmas

 Photo by from Pexels

Relieve the “After-Christmas Blues”

For many people, Christmas Day begins with a bang and ends with a whimper. It needn’t. By celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, you may alleviate those “after-Christmas blues.”

There are many things that contribute to the blues after Christmas. I’ve been disappointed by the shortness of the day. Expectations build for weeks before, then like a snap it’s over. 

Celebrations lift the spirits and make us happy, especially when we are giving. I figure that as long as I can celebrate, the longer my spirits will soar. Instead of only celebrating Christmas Day, I like to celebrate all twelve of them.

The tradition began in Western Christianity during the 6th century AD as a sacred and festive occasion from Christmas Day leading up to Epiphany – the feast celebrating the arrival of the Magi to see the child, Jesus. It’s called Christmastide. 

You know the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, during which “my true love gave to me” lots of great stuff? 

1 partridge in a pear tree, 

2 turtle doves,

3 french hens,

4 calling birds

5 gold rings

6 geese a-laying

7 swans a-swimming

8 maids a-milking

9 ladies dancing

10 lords a-leaping

11 pipers piping

12 drummers drumming

“My true love” must’ve been very happy, indeed.

Gifting doesn’t have to be so extravagant to be merry. Even a little celebration will boost your spirits. 

Dr. Ben Carson – U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – is quoted as saying, “Happiness doesn't result from what we get, but from what we give.”

On the final night – The Twelfth Night – throw a dinner party for a few friends and family. Yes. Try it yourself this Christmastide to chase away those “after-Christmas blues.”

Return to

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

A Stroll Along King Street, Charleston, SC

Behind The Garden Wall

Garden Wall in Charleston South Carolina

Late fall is a favorite season for strolling here in the Deep South. The weather is cooler, often clement, and natural colors can be outstanding. Containers and beds are brimming with annuals such as pansies, snapdragons and ornamental brassicas. Camellias are in full bloom, and some azaleas are still showing off. What’s more, flowering vines can be outstanding, and there’s usually a bit of serendipity.

We enjoyed such a day just last week. I had no sooner stepped out of my car parked on South Battery when I overheard a lady in a horse-drawn carriage ask the coachwoman if she could identify a plant she saw nearby that was covered with bright red berries. The driver could not, so I politely offered my service. “That is a holly. Weeping Yaupon holly. Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’,” I said while pantomiming so she could get the picture.

After that brief introduction to the type of character they might meet around Charleston, we began to stroll up King Street. It wasn’t long before we stopped to photograph flowering vines spilling over a garden wall. Frankly, that is about the extent of what one might see in gardens along the way. High walls and wrought iron gates prevent visitors from getting too close and seeing too much. As long as we stay outside the gates, homeowners usually don’t mind admirers peering through the bars. In fact, most residents usually spend a great deal of money maintaining their lovely window boxes and street plantings for others to enjoy. 

Here are a few of the garden sights we enjoyed.

Caesalpinia mexicana

Mixed window box with Carex and Snapdragons

Tecoma capensis

Mixed window box planting

Use of dwarf mondo in driveway

Private garden

Mixed window box planting

Espalier with Trachelospermum jasminoides

Mixed street planting

Camellia espaliers

Window box with pansies, Lamium and brassicas

Enchanting gateway

Lamium, petunia, pansy, sweet alyssum, brassica

Alley beckoning

Container garden with camellia background

Streetside garden

Still, one can’t help wondering what grows behind the garden wall.

Return to

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

FAQ: How can I get rid of Poa annua in my lawn?


Rasbak, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
Poa annua - Credit Rasbak, CC BY-SA 3.0

Poa annua is also known as annual bluegrass. It can be a real pest. Though it is an annual, it re-seeds prolifically and returns to your lawn year after year.

There is no really effective chemical treatment that I know of for killing Poa annua in the lawn. Focus on preventing seed germination. Apply weed pre-emergent in spring and fall. Follow label instructions. Don’t use a chemical that is incompatible with your lawn grass species. The seeds are very tough and persistent, so it might take a few years to get it under control. 

Try to eliminate Poa in non-lawn areas, where possible, with glyphosate application. Also beware of importing seeds into the area on lawnmowers that have been used elsewhere. 

I hope this helps.

Return to

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lessons To Be Learned From The Plymouth Plantation Experience


By Jennie Augusta Brownscombe - Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal
By Jennie Augusta Brownscombe - Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal

Four hundred years ago, after setting up a little village in Plymouth, Massachusetts, about 100 Pilgrims were facing what turned out to be a brutal winter. They were industrious, pious Christians who decided to organize their efforts and pool their resources as a commune. This they thought would be the right thing to do. 

After all, there was biblical precedent. There was an example described in Acts 2:44-45, "And all that believed, were in one place, and had all things common. And...parted them to all men, as everyone had need." (1559 Geneva Bible) But what was described in the book of Acts was not prescribed for the rest of the Church, nor did it continue as a general practice.

It certainly didn’t work for the Pilgrims. Their Governor, William Bradford, wrote, “no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any” from abroad. By the spring of 1621, half of their number had died from starvation. Disease and exposure to the harsh weather also took a heavy toll.

Bradford observed that communal living “was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.”

Claims of victim-hood abounded, and there was a lot of complaining. “...[T]he young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men's wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men's wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

Personal relationships were frayed. “Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition.” 

The faulty principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" popularized later by Karl Marx failed them, as it always does, so the survivors decided to try something different. 

Bradford recalled,  “...they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family."

Everyone was charged with being responsible for his own well-being and that of his family. Rather than making matters worse, the strategy was quite successful. 

Governor Bradford wrote, “ made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

To be sure, the Pilgrims were greatly aided by the Native Americans in the vicinity, some of whom spoke English. The true story of Wampanoag Tisquantum – aka Squanto – is fascinating, but it’s a tale to be left for another time.

The lesson for Governor Bradford and his band was this:

"The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato's and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. Let none object this is men's corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them."

Theirs is an education that needs to be taken to heart today.

Return to

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Great Garden Ideas For Thanksgiving

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1925,

What we recognize as the most notable Thanksgiving in North American history was celebrated sometime during the fall of 1621 at Plymouth Plantation, where the Pilgrims held a three-day feast following a successful harvest. (There were other thanksgivings, of course.) They had much to thank God for, including life itself. Half of their number died the previous year from starvation.

It’s fitting, I think, to decorate our gardens and celebrate them as Thanksgiving nears. They’ve worked so hard, they deserve it. Here are a few ideas that come to mind:

Prepare to party

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

What could be finer than to give thanks in your garden? Share the festivities with others! Set up a rustic dining table, a fire pit and seating. Gather your corn stalks – or sugar cane, if you live in the Deep South – into sheaves. Group bales of straw – or pine straw, if you live in the Deep South – and pumpkins in attractive arrangements. String festive lights from tree to tree to light the scene.

Dress the doorway

Welcome your guests with imaginative wreaths on your doors, walls and garden gates. Grape vine wreaths with ribbons, fruit – or cotton bolls, if you live in the Deep South – and fall leaves will cheer them upon arrival. Small tea lights along the walk would look so charming. 

Freshen container gardens

Fall is a great time to replace those worn, leggy plants in pots, barrels and baskets.  Mums, pansies, petunias, ornamental cabbage and kale along with tall grasses and liriope would look great, and are readily available this time of year. Arrange them on your porch and near the door. Don’t stop there; use some as table decorations for your outdoor table setting.

Outfit your scarecrow

Does your silent garden helper look bedraggled about now? Outfit him with fresh overalls, shirt and hat. Find a suitable outfit at Goodwill Industries. Stuff some fresh straw in his sleeves, and put a new smile on his face. It’ll make you smile, too.

Share the message

Garden flags in bright colors with fall motifs can express what’s in your heart. A few blackboards of various sizes set upon easels may say, “Welcome!” “Give Thanks.” “Thank Y-O-U!” Buy some big chunks of chalk in orange, red, yellow and white to spell it along with pictures out on your walk or driveway.

Display your bounty

Fruits and vegetables fresh from your garden and orchard will look lovely in baskets, bowls and dishes. Apples, pumpkins, squash, Japanese persimmons, dried okra pods – paint them if you like – and colorful pinto beans would be just right.

Paint your wagon...

Or cart, or wheelbarrow, sled or sleigh. Fill it with straw scattered or baled. Load it up with good things from your garden. Put a scarecrow in the driver’s seat for a whimsical touch.

Don’t let them go empty-handed.

When the party is over, give your guests a share of your bounty. Apples, small pumpkins, bags of beans, ears of popcorn or a small bouquet of flowers will be much appreciated. 

Show your friends and loved ones how much they mean to you, and how thankful you are for them. Most of all, thank Providence for all the blessings you enjoy.

Return to

Thursday, November 19, 2020

3 Simple Christmas Tree Tips

 Photo by Irina Iriser from Pexels

Make your cut tree last longer

These three simple Christmas tree tips can help you enjoy it to the end of the season. There are no secrets here; just common sense.

  1. Buy it early. I used to sell Christmas trees. Would-be customers would often say that they’d prefer not to buy that day; they’d wait until later in the season so it would be fresh and last longer in their homes. I’d think, “Lady, they’re not gonna get any fresher!”  But I wouldn’t say it because I’m polite. The fact is, when Christmas trees are cut at the plantation, they start to die. Separated from their roots and the nourishment they provide, those trees’ days are numbered. Furthermore, in most cases, what you see on the lot is all you’re going to see. The vendor isn’t getting any more. So, the longer you wait to buy your tree, the deader it’s gonna be when you buy it. So, buy your cut Christmas trees as soon as they become available.
  2. Prime it to suck. That cut tree is just aching to suck up more water. As soon as the end is cut that end begins to dry out. When the end dries, it’s just like pinching the end of a drinking straw. Not much is going to be drawn up into it. The cut end needs to be re-cut so it’ll start sucking again. Some Christmas tree lots will re-cut the end for you. If they don’t, or if you have a long way to travel, you’ll need to cut it yourself. Cut it flat at a 90 degree angle from the vertical so that your tree will sit flat in the tree stand.
  3. Keep the cut end in water. If you plan to put it in a tree stand, do it immediately. Add water to the bowl as soon as possible. Mix tree preservative to the water, if you can get it. Many Christmas tree lots offer little packets for sale. If you can’t put the tree into its stand immediately, cut the end and stick it in a bucket of water until you do.

These three steps can help you enjoy your cut Christmas tree until the season ends.

Return to

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Add Epsom Salt To Your Garden


Photo by Castorly Stock from Pexels

It can make a big difference

Epsom salt is one of those little known additives that can make a big difference in your garden. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, a naturally occurring mineral found on earth, and quite possibly even in space. Its name comes from the source in England - Epsom on Surrey - where it was produced from springs.

Magnesium helps plants produce chlorophyll and fruit, strengthens cell structure, and enhances plant absorption of sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus.

Sulfur is also important for plant growth. It assists in producing amino acids, enzymes, and vitamins.

Needless to say, without these minerals plants can not flourish. Epsom salt combines both in one easy-to-apply form.

How to determine mineral deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is best determined by taking a soil sample, but you might be able to diagnose a deficiency by plant symptoms. Common symptoms include leaf yellowing, deformed or stunted foliage. Roses, tomatoes and peppers exhibit deficiencies more readily than others.

Soils with high pH levels, high potassium and calcium contents are very likely to be deficient.  To be sure, take a soil sample to your regional Cooperative Extension Service for testing. It's the best way to determine whether your soil needs magnesium. If the test shows severe magnesium deficiency, the addition of dolomite lime to the soil might be recommended. But that might not be enough to correct the problem. Add Epsom salt, too. Epsom salt it is highly soluble, so it is taken up by plants much more quickly than dolomite limestone. 

How to apply Epsom salt

You can sprinkle the crystals around plants, or you can make a solution in water and pour it around your plants. You can even spray it on the leaves. The foliar spray works most rapidly.

How much to apply depends on the size of your plants and how you intend to apply it. For vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers, apply 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt granules at planting time. Sprinkle the granules around the transplants. For larger plants, apply 1/2 cup of granules in spring and fall. For fruit trees, nuts and grape vines, apply 1/2 cup to 1 cup of granules around the drip line. That's where the feeder roots are. The drip line is the outer circumference of the leaf canopy.

For foliar spray, add 1 tablespoon of Epsom salt per gallon of water. Apply generously two or three times during the growing season.

You should see an improvement in plant health in short order. Your fruits and vegetables might even taste better, too. If you have a problem with blossom-end rot on your tomatoes, Epsom salt might just be the cure.

Epsom salt should be available grocery and drug stores. Because Epsom salt is often used for soaking tired muscles, and taken for some other complaints, check the pharmacy department.

Return to

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Behind The Garden Wall - The Japanese Tea Garden - San Francisco

Finding Serenity

Azalea at San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden

Much of what you’ve heard about San Francisco, California is true. You’ll meet some friendly, helpful people. Its history is fascinating. Some streets are crazy steep, as are costs. Homelessness is rife. Human poop is on some sidewalks. Aimless, naked people might shout at you unprovoked. If you don't look down, the distant scenery is awesome, but you really should look down, occasionally.  

However, there are some lovely places where you can escape the insanity and find serenity. The Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco is one of them. It holds the distinction of being the oldest public Japanese Tea Garden in North America. 

Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.

Gate San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden


The San Francisco Tea Garden was originally an exhibit - one of many "villages" - spanning about one acre for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. The Japanese Village and Tea Garden, as it was called, was conceived by George Turner Marsh of Mill Valley as a concession enterprise. The entry gate - Shuro-no-mon - actually came from Marsh's property.

George Turner Marsh portrait

Marsh was fascinated by all things Japanese, having lived there with his family as a teenager. As an "Orientalist", he opened the G. T. Marsh & Company store in San Francisco, featuring Japanese art and Asian-inspired jewelry. He also developed other Japanese gardens in California. The family-run store continued in business until 2001.

Marsh employed Toshio Aoki - an artist and designer in his studio - to design the garden. 

Japanese Village and Tea Garden 1894

The Japanese Village and Tea Garden was completed and opened on December 27, 1893, one month earlier than the Exposition's grand opening. For .25 cents, visitors could experience the "authentic" village with its story-teller, gates, buildings, bridge, restaurant, paths, lanterns, and landscape.

As the Exposition's closing neared, it seemed a shame to entirely dismantle the Tea Garden, so the Board of Park Commissioners paid $4,500 for it. Some structures were removed, a couple to Marsh's Mill Valley estate. The garden was closed for remodeling. Japanese businessman and gardening enthusiast - Makoto Hagiwara - was retained by a “gentlemen’s agreement” to create and maintain the permanent Japanese style garden.  

As caretaker of the property, Hagiwara spent many years and much expense developing it to its current size spanning about 5 acres.  He and his family lived there until 1942 when they were forced to leave their homes and go to internment camps. They were not allowed to return. Some of their possessions were moved to the home of a friend. Others were sold at auction, the proceeds of which were used as down-payment for another home in the Richmond District.


The Japanese Tea Garden is now one of the most popular attractions in San Francisco. Noteworthy though typical features include a steeply arched drum bridge, stone lanterns and paths, pagodas, native Japanese plants, koi ponds and a zen garden.


Visitors will enjoy scenes such as these.

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden ferns

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Koi

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Tracery in the pines

Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco - Buddha

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Iris pond

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Lanterns

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Drum Bridge

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Pagoda

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Paths

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Stream

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Tea House

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Vista

San Francisco Japanese Tea Garden - Koi Pond and Lantern

Its Location, Admission and Cost

The Garden is located within Golden Gate Park at 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118.

The attraction is now operated by the San Francisco Recreation and Park division, which has no intention of letting Japanese – or anyone else, for that matter – enter without paying admission, except for Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9-10am, when admission is free. Find current hours. Find admission fees

Return to