Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Celebrate July 4 – The Beginning of Freedom in the USA

Image by Wynn Pointaux from Pixabay

Independence Day – July 4 – celebrates the spark that marked the beginning of freedom for millions. Human history, for all its accomplishments, is also scarred with oppression. Slavery was about as common as any other institution. Not until the 18th century did a large enough groundswell of enlightenment and moral indignation even begin to put an end to it.

The freedom-loving patriots of yesteryear were no strangers to hardship. Compared to today, they had to do everything the hard way. We should appreciate them more if we explore a bit of their lives and times during the Independence Day weekend. So, gather your children, family and friends. Turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices. Here are some activities that we can do together.

Do colonial crafts

Crafts today are what most of us do for pleasure in our spare time. In those days, craft works were more often for utility or survival. Here are a few ideas gathered from around the internet for things to do that’ll give an idea of what it was like in the olden days.

Plant an herb garden

Growing herbs at home needn’t be a big deal. A few herbs in pots, planters or window boxes will do.

Make soap

Cleanliness is next to godliness, it’s said. Better still, include some herbs in the mix. Find out what it was like to make your own soap and use it.

Make paper

You could start from scratch using wood, but don’t go to that much trouble if you don’t want to. Learn how to make paper at home. Making our own paper would prevent us from wasting so much of it.

Make a quill pen

If you can’t find a large enough feather, run over to Hobby Lobby before Sunday for a package of white craft feathers. Here's a video on how to make a feather quill pen.

Brew herb tea

American Patriots turned against drinking imported Camellia sinensis tea in the mid-18th century, for obvious reasons. So they turned toward herbal teas. If you have some herbs like mint, chamomile, bergamot or hibiscus in your garden, brew a pot of sober beverage. Here's how to make herbal tea.

Cook a meal using colonial recipes

The precisely descriptive recipes of today were hardly known before the Fannie Farmer Cookbook was published in 1896. Most recipes simply named the ingredients, and measurements were figured in pinches, dollops or hands-full. But some have been modernized. These Colonial Recipes sound delicious!

Play old-fashioned games

Marbles, jackstraws, horseshoes or leapfrog, anyone?

Go on a nature walk

I just published a blog article on the topic. Take your kids on nature walks. Check it out.

Read a story about colonists or Revolutionary events.

Stories about children are especially interesting to young people. Liberty's Children: Stories of Eleven Revolutionary War Children, Johnny Tremain, Stories of Colonial Children and Boys and Girls of Colonial Days should be on your reading list. The last three can be found at archive.org. (You’ll have to turn your electronic device back on for that.)

Gather with family members to reminisce.

Before there were books, lessons were taught orally. Telling family stories and tales of past experiences help to bind us together with mutual understanding.

Enjoy a patriotic concert

How I’ve loved those summer evenings picnicking near the bandstand and listening to patriotic music. A quick internet search will probably display several venues in your area.

So, with a little inspiration in mind and love of liberty in your heart, go celebrate our great nation's independence this weekend.

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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Take Your Kids On Nature Walks


Image by Pezibear from Pixabay

Do you want your kids to grow up to be happy, healthy adults? Sure you do. So, take them on nature walks. Little rambles in the woods, in the garden, or even around the neighborhood will go a long way toward helping them get on the right track to wellness.

Nature walks 

  • Build relationships
  • Teach children about the natural world
  • Stimulate inquisitiveness
  • Promote physical fitness

Here’s how it works.

Building relationships

In today’s world, most of us are way too caught up in our own interests. Most of them are perfectly legitimate and necessary, but we too often become wrapped up in our pursuits and lose touch with others – especially our children. Reflective strolls with little ones – the more the merrier – help to bind our hearts together. Quiet rambles give us time to talk and share. Walk hand-in-hand with your kids while they’ll still let you. 

Teaching children about the natural world

The world is full of delights and dangers. Children need to know how to enjoy the world, and how to avoid harm. The reflection of a buttercup on the chin, the softness of a lamb’s ear leaf, the caress of a soft breeze, the fragrance of flowers, the aroma of crushed herbs, the textures of tree bark, the songs of birds, the scampering of squirrels, the burrowing of earthworms, and the trepidation of deer are among the fascinations. On the other hand, there are those important warnings – stay away from the edge, “leaves of three, let them be”, be careful stepping over fallen logs – that must be heeded. Better to teach them ourselves than to let them learn alone unsupervised.

Stimulating inquisitiveness

Why are things as they are? What makes that work? What might happen if…? How many more are there? These are the kinds of questions that children should be learning to ask in their formative years. We adults might think that kids, in their naivete, aren’t paying attention or that they won’t remember. Ah! But they are like little sponges, watching and listening. I’m constantly amazed at the little details of times past that my adult children recall. 

Promoting physical fitness

It should go without saying that walking, running, climbing, hopping, kneeling and stooping strengthen the body and mind. Even children with limited talents and physical abilities can participate at some level. Most can, at least. Will they be active or sedentary? The behavior that they adopt today will stick with them for the rest of their lives – for better or for worse.

Toward the end of our lives, we adults won’t wish we’d spent more time at work or watching TV. They won’t wish they’d played more video games. We’ll all remember precious times we spent together on nature walks outdoors.

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Thursday, June 3, 2021

Ferns As Groundcovers

Strolling pathways and lanes among magnificent homes on Kiawah Island, I was impressed by the effective use of ornamental groundcovers in the landscapes.

Paths there were many,
Winding through palmy fern, and rushes fenny,
And ivy banks; all leading pleasantly
To a wide lawn, whence one could only see
Stems thronging all around between the swell
Of turf and slanting branches: who could tell
The freshness of the space of heaven above,
Edg'd round with dark tree tops?...
- John Keats - From Endymion: Book I

The ferns were among the loveliest. What makes them so are their rich textures, lush beauty, and low maintenance requirements. Ferns, in fact, could be an elegant answer to your own groundcover needs.

Before delving into the subject of ferns as groundcovers, let's consider the reasons for using groundcovers.

Groundcovers (or ground covers) are going to occur in most climates quite naturally. Just above the soil layer and below native shrubs and trees, herbaceous plants sprout and spread. They are important in the ecosystem for erosion control, providing and balancing plant diversity, conserving soil moisture, and healing the land after some sort of disturbance.

Many natural groundcover species are not all that attractive. Some are harmful; poison ivy comes to mind. Creative gardeners, however, have learned to substitute more desirable plant species to achieve those worthy ends that nature would otherwise accomplish.

So, that brings us back to the subject of ferns as groundcovers. Ferns will not serve as lawn substitutes for they grow too tall and don't survive frequent foot traffic, but it you want plants that do whatever else that groundcovers should do, require minimal maintenance, and are deer-proof, ferns could be your plants of choice.  Choosing the right fern is as simple as identifying the area you want to cover and selecting a suitable species to do it.

Once established, fern groundcovers are very impressive. Here are a few to consider.

Southern Sword Fern

Nephrolepis cordifolia

Nephrolepis cordifolia - aka Southern Sword Fern - is among the most widely used ferns in southeastern U.S. landscapes. They're tough as nails and very easy to grow.  This evergreen species presents upright sword-shaped fronds with closely spaced leaflets. They spread by runners, and tolerate drier, poorer soil than most ferns, especially in shaded areas. They'll also thrive in full sun with sufficient irrigation.

But first, take note. Southern Sword Fern is not native to the U.S., but to Australia and Asia. Therefore, it is sometimes considered to be an invasive species because it competes with native groundcover species - i.e. weeds. But given that it does suppress weeds, it seems like an ideal solution to the weed problem if used judiciously. I'll leave it to you to decide. 

Southern Sword Ferns grows to 18" tall. Recommended soil pH from 5.6 to 7.8. They're cold-hardy only in USDA climate zones 9b - 11, so they're of limited use.

Hay-scented Fern

Dennstaedtia punctilobula

Dennstaedtia punctilobula, also known as Hay-scented fern is a North American native found from Quebec to Georgia, and westward to Missouri and Arkansas. That's USDA climate zones 3 - 8. 

It is deciduous, but the fall foliage turns to a beautiful golden yellow or chartreuse (hay-colored) in fall. Grow it in full shade - not deep shade - to partial shade in soil with average moisture. 

The secret to success with any plant is to approximate it's native habitat in your own landscape. Dennstaedtia thrives in rich, deep, loamy soil with average moisture in deciduous hardwood forests.

Hay-scented fern is best propagated by planting rhizomes in well-prepared soil. It's reasonably drought-tolerant, and, of course, deer won't eat them.

Christmas Fern

Polystichum acrosticoides

This evergreen beauty is one of our most useful native ferns. Polystichum acrosticoides really stands out in winter. Also known as Christmas fern, the glossy foliage has been gathered since colonial times for Christmas greenery. I never fail to point out to my grandchildren that the leaflets are shaped like elves' shoes. 

It can be found growing naturally in shady hardwood forests from Quebec to Florida, and westward to Texas (USDA climate zones 3 - 9). Rich, loamy, slightly moist soil is ideal. Nevertheless, Christmas fern is reasonably drought tolerant. They are often available in 3-1/2 inch pots and as bare root crowns.

Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern - aka Dryopteris erythrosora - is an Asian beauty that is becoming very popular. Evergreen fronds grow 18" to 24", and newly emerging foliage has a burgundy tone. Stunning! It's cold hardy, too, thriving from USDA climate zones 5 - 8. The delicate appearance belies its toughness - so tough, in fact, that it is often used in public gardens, squares and avenue median strips, so long as the site is in partial shade to full shade.

Southern Shield Fern

Dryopteris ludoviciana

So, what if you need a fern for a sunny location? Look no further than Southern Shield fern or Southern Wood fern - aka Dryopteris ludoviciana. This gorgeous North American native is found from Kentucky to Florida, and westward to Texas. That's USDA climate zones 6 - 10. Foliage is evergreen, too. It's a big one, growing up to 48" in height! Average, slightly moist soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5 will be ideal.

There are, of course, many more ferns that could be mentioned. Some are, in my opinion, a bit too small to serve as effective ground covers. Others are gigantic. Many prefer habitats too specific to be of general interest.

I hope that these ferns I've mentioned will provide you with some inspiring choices for your own ground cover needs.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2021

FAQ: On Planting Hay-scented Ferns - Dennstaedtia puntilobula

Hay-scented ferns

How does one plant Hay-scented ferns? Inquiring minds want to know. I posted an instructional video on the topic, but it doesn't cover all the bases. Here are a couple of good questions:

Q. The video shows green fronds however the picture that accompanies the web page does not. How can I tell which is "up" if there are no fronds emerging? Thanks!

A. The rhizomes are laid horizontally into a shallow trench. There may be some new shoots emerging from the rhizomes when you receive them, which will help you determine which side is up. Even if you get it "wrong", they'll come out alright. But the correct side should be self-evident.

Hay-scented fern rhizome

Q. In your video you cover the rhizomes with potting soil.  I have a good quantity of well composted cow manure. Could I cover the rhizomes with the compost and then a layer of shredded bark to discourage weeds?

A. High quality potting soil should not have weed seeds in it, so the only weed seeds would be in your native soil surrounding the area. If you decide to use compost, I suggest you mix it with native soil, but that presents the potential weed problem. If you cover the rhizomes too deeply with soil/compost/bark, they might have difficulty emerging, if at all. So, care must be taken for that reason. Depending on  your situation, you will probably have to pull some weeds either way, but probably fewer if you use a very high quality potting soil to cover the rhizomes.

Return to Hay-scented ferns at GoGardenNow.com.