A few weeks ago, I had occasion to take a peek at my neighbors' gorgeous back yard. We were doing a one-day dog-sitting stint for their beautiful and very well-mannered golden retriever. I could go on and on about how wonderful this particular dog is, but I'll save my comments about Molly for another time!
What was quite astonishing about this backyard was that in the midst of winter it exuded a lush, tropical feel. As I glanced around I noticed several outcroppings of deep-green, long-leafed plants throughout the area. Having had a few in my own yard at one time, I recognized the plants as Aspidistra elatior, or Cast Iron Plants. The strategic placement of these 2 ft X 2 ft, evergreen, perennial plants in my neighbors' backyard had definitely added vibrancy to their winter poolside decor and will most certainly enhance their summer landscaping as well.
If you happen to have a skillet, pot, fence or garden decor item made of cast iron, you can surely attest to its durability. And this is exactly the attribute by which the Aspidistra elatior obtained its common name - incredible durability, or otherwise, its ability to endure.
The Cast Iron Plant, a member of the lily family, is indeed one of the easiest plants to grow both indoors and outdoors. For those of you who claim to have brown thumbs - this is the plant for you! It it can withstand weeks of neglect and amazingly doesn't need much in the way of nutrients or sunlight to survive.
In Zones 6 - 11, you may sow the Cast Iron Plant outdoors in areas of deep shade to part sun, in dry to moderately moist soil, with acidic or alkaline ph, and/or any combination thereof. Full sun will burn its leaves and consistently wet soil will eventually rot the roots -but other than these two extreme scenarios, the Cast Iron Plant should thrive. But while it doesn't do well in full sun, the plant can endure very hot ambient temperatures. So - if you have an isolated corner, strip along your patio, or a vacant spot in your landscape that simply could use a little greenery, the Cast Iron Plant will bring a refreshing tropical feel to these otherwise barren areas - spring, summer, fall and winter.
Speaking of a tropical feel, it is important to clarify that I am speaking of the wide, green, strap-like leaves (sometimes spotted or variegated depending on the variety) of the Cast Iron Plant. Although a "cousin" to the beautiful Daylily and Tulip, the Cast Iron Plant produces flowers that are a very inconspicuous brown and which develop at the soil level. Needless to say, the plant isn't grown or displayed for its flowering capabilities. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful backdrop to other plants that do flower and is sometimes used in beds as a tall, year 'round ground cover.
As I mentioned earlier, the Cast Iron Plant can also be grown indoors with ease. Like other houseplants such as Sansevieria (snake plant), Dracaena (corn plant) and Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), the Cast Iron Plant can survive in very low light. In fact, it may be able to withstand the darkest corner of a room or hallway moreso than those previously mentioned. A variegated or spotted Cast Iron Plant variety would further serve to brighten these indoor areas. Best of all, it is a very forgiving plant should you simply forget to water or otherwise attend to it from time to time.
Well, as promised in my last blog post, I wanted to bring you a planting option this spring for those areas in your landscape in which you haven't had much success in growing anything in the past - whether it is due to poor soil, poor lighting, poor location or for reasons unknown. And if I may reiterate - this particular planting option, the Cast Iron Plant, is an extremely tough, perennial evergreen and thus, a one-time planting will decorate your landscape year 'round for many years to come. And don't forget - the Cast Iron Plant can be utilized as a houseplant in the most difficult of indoor areas as well, benefiting you with natural air filtration year 'round.
I can't think of anything more versatile, yet resilient - other than items actually made of cast iron!
Until next time,
Ahhh - it is March 4th and 88 degrees here in North Texas today. It is definitely a day that will promote a little Spring Fever!
Bare arbor alit with mini-stringed solar lights. Will be prettier once foliage grows among the lights.
Texas shaped birdbath in corner of fence behind a holly- where it is difficult to grow ornamentals.
Taking into consideration the above tasks - and the fact spring actually doesn't arrive on the calendar until March 22nd - there is plenty we can do to satisfy our early Spring Fever/Spring Cleaning urges these days. While spontaneous and/or accidental successes in gardening are indeed quite pleasant, there is great satisfaction in beginning with a plan and seeing it through, step by step, to success - not to mention the time, money and effort you may save along the way.
Until next time,
Although one of my 2013 New Year's resolutions was to become more active, I had not started doing too much in the way of dedicated exercise until last weekend. Yes, I know, I'm six weeks late as it is mid-February!
At any rate, my boyfriend, Mike, and I decided to take a Saturday morning walk in the neighborhood to kick-start our hopefully "routine" fitness routine. It was quite gray and chilly here in North Texas, but the brisk walk was well worth it for reasons more than just the physical. Our senses were enveloped by the serenity of the late winter landscape.
Among the peaceful yet barren suburban yards, every so often we would see snippets of salmon-colored buds or bright golden bells. These flowering buds were without the typical background of green leaves as they were borne on winter bare limbs.
I'm speaking of Flowering Quince and Forsythia - very early bloomers of the coming season. Crocus, Hyacinth and Jonquils are early bloomers as well, but considering Flowering Quince and Forsythia are shrubs - it is indeed a surprise to see them flowering when temperatures have been steadily cold.
Autumn Sage & Flowering Quince in Carrollton, TX Feb 2013
(Both of these shrubs are straggly by nature and thus, are good companions.)
Forsythia in Carrollton, TX Feb 2013
Hyacinth & Jonquils in Carrollton, TX Feb 2013
Flowering Quince and Forsythia share many attributes in addition to their simultaneously early blooming times. Both shrubs are hardy from Zones 5 - 8, with some of each seen stretching to Zones 4 and 9 on occasion. They are deciduous and can be planted in part shade to full sun, however, the more sun they receive the more abundant and vibrant their flowers will be. Both may be planted in a variety of soil types, i.e. sand, clay or loam, as long as drainage isn't a problem. However, they each will benefit from a supplement of peat or landscape mix now and then as they tend to grow stronger in nuetral to slightly acidic environments. Flowering Quince and Forsythia are relatively fast growing and typically reach 6 feet in height at maturity but both can grow up to 10 ft in height and 8-10 ft in width if not pruned. Speaking of pruning, these shrubs should be pruned after they bloom as the next year's buds will appear on the matured wood. If you wait to tidy them up in late fall or winter, you will diminish the blooms of the following spring. Blooms occur on these shrubs prior to leaves appearing. Unfortunately, another common trait among the two is their vibrant flowers only last about two weeks - just long enough to provide us an "appetizer" for the coming warm weather!
Now, for a few differences:
While both Flowering Quince and Forsythia are considered informal, irregular shrubs, Forsythia is the more attractive of the two after its leaves begin to appear. It is often utilized in landscapes as a specimen plant. Quince, on the other hand, has been described as having a tangled, spindly appearance - even after having leaved out. Except for new and improved cultivars, Flowering Quince also produces large thorns. As such, Quince is best situated in either an out of the way location or, in contrast, as a barrier shrub.
Forsythia produces bell shaped flowers in varying shades of one color - yellow. Flowering Quince, on the other hand, produces cup-like flowers in multiple colors - red, pink, salmon, orange or white.
Unlike Flowering Quince, Forsythia may add color interest to your landscape in the fall months as well as in spring. Several varieties of Forsythia produce leaves that turn deep purple to bronze in autumn, before ultimately shedding them.
With regard to their history and uses, both Flowering Quince and Forsythia shrubs are usually found in rural areas and mature urban/suburban yards. In past times, the small fruit of Flowering Quince was used for jellies when apples or other fruit was scarce. Forsythia's fruit is used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to detoxify the body and treat fevers, among other things. Keep in mind today's cultivars are ever-changing and it is always recommended to consult a licensed health care provider before eating any unusual plant or taking any herbal remedy.
In conclusion, as you begin to notice trees, shrubs and flowers budding out in your landscape this spring, you might consider one of these two shrubs for that odd, difficult location in your yard in which you haven't found anything to thrive. Considering Flowering Quince and Forsythia are perennial, they are moderate growers, they can be pruned or left natural, they grow well in most soil types (except bogs) and they tolerate a wide range of sunlight conditions, one or both of these shrubs may be just what you are looking for. Needless to say, their adaptability is one of their best shared characteristics.
And while they may not be among the most glamorous shrubs in the landscape throughout the year, they certainly make a spectacular first impression!
Until next time,
I love geckos.
I love them for many reasons:
In the wintertime, I truly miss the geckos that usually greet me, clinging like live decorations to the brick walls of my doorway on warm nights. As most of you know by now, I live in the southern US where the winters are relatively mild. I would expect to see geckos out and about during the week-long warm spells we have now and then in January & February.
Not so, and I'll tell you why -
Brumation is what reptiles do in the colder seasons, very similar to the hibernation activity of mammals.
Although reptiles are cold blooded and can withstand fluctuations of temperatures very well, their bodies instinctively seek rest and added protection as the days grow shorter and the temperatures become consistently cooler. Their metabolism also gradually slows during this period - to the point they will not eat, yet they are able to maintain a healthy weight.
Interestingly, pet geckos that enjoy warmer household temperatures and artificial lighting may still instinctively brumate. Their bodies may sense even the slightest decrease in indoor temperatures and send them into brumation, however their reactions may not be quite as dramatic as those of the lizards that live outdoors. If you have, or have had, reptiles as pets, you may recognize this period as the time when your lizard becomes slightly lethargic and just doesn't eat as much as usual. Perhaps this is the month or so that your lizard consistently leaves a few live crickets in the tank whereas he usually gobbles them all up.
Geckos that live outdoors will seek shelter in warm crevices, hollow logs, deep leaf mounds and mud as nighttime temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees. Don't be surprised if you accidentally disturb a gecko or two brumating in your outdoor planters should you decide to sow a few winter or early spring flowers! My mom innocently dug up a number of brumating bullfrogs one year that were overwintering in the terra cotta planters situated on her sunny porch. Don't fret, though - disturbing reptiles and amphibians during brumation will not hurt or kill them, it only inconveniences them a bit.
Conversely, when weather conditions become extremely hot and dry, cold-blooded animals will often estivate - or seek cool, moist, shaded areas in which to rest to help them better survive the severely arid period. Lizards that live in desert areas are often found in an estivation stage under rocks and deep inside ledges during the hottest of the summer months.
Back to the gecko in particular . . .
During my research about why I rarely, if ever, see geckos during the wintertime, I learned a few more points I'd like to share with you in conclusion:
Distribution of the Mediterranean House Gecko
As I close this post, I ponder the differences in how humans, animals, birds, insects and plants adapt to the seasons. Some of us hibernate, some of us brumate, some of us migrate and some of us transform. I think if there is one commonality here, it is that we should respect and listen to the nature of our bodies.
If we are tired, we should seek rest. If we have overindulged, we should seek moderation. If we are too hot or too cold, we should seek shelter. Lastly, if we are unhappy, we should certainly seek contentment.
Nature is nurture, after all.
Until next time,
Played: 74 | Download | Duration: 00:08:10
Covered sago palm during first freeze in North Texas - 2012.
'Tis the season to preserve and protect your plants!
Even those of us who live in areas of mild winters should take heed and protect our tender perennials and otherwise delicate outdoor plantings when the cold winds blow our way. Living on the cusp of Zones 7b & 8a I have been fortunate to salvage a few of my prized plants during frost and freeze snaps without actually bringing them indoors. Of course, in North Texas we may have freezing temps one day and highs in the 70's the next. Thus, if I brought plants inside every time there was a chance of a frost or freeze, I'd be carting them back and forth more times than I care to do!
However, if you reside in an area that is steadily cold in the winter, I would indeed suggest you bring your tender perennials inside, if you can, or invest in a semi-permanent protective garden row cover to place over your prized possessions. As the days begin to warm in the spring, you may only need to remove the covers from your plants every now and then.
Protecting plants from cold is actually very easy and economical. Truly, the hard part is staying ahead of the weather. This shouldn't be too difficult in consistently cold areas but may be difficult in fluctuating temperate areas such as where I live. On sunny days after a frost, if I accidentally leave a plant covered with transparent plastic it could actually burn.
Below are a few suggestions on how to protect your plants during sporadic hard frosts and freezes:
Contrasting periwinkles in ground and in a pot after first freeze in North Texas - 2012.
I'm sure if you follow the above tips, you will be very pleased when your plants "spring" back!
In the meantime, now is the time to be jolly . . . and to protect your plants too!
Until next time,
I sincerely hope every one of you has a very wonderful holiday season, no matter the holiday you chose to honor. In my tradition of gift-giving at Christmas, I'd love to share a packet of Moonflower seeds with you. Send me a comment or email and according to postage restrictions, I'll send you a packet to sow and enjoy during your summertime, whenever it is! Your information will remain confidential.
Rectangular or House-style Birdfeeder
What I have learned through trial and error is that if you wish to attract a wide variety of birds to your home you need to provide a variety of food options nearby. Some of you may believe there aren't that many types of birds living in your area but I am certain we all have hidden beauties to be discovered in our cities, neighborhoods and rural areas. I assure you once you set out a wide selection of cuisine you will be surprised to see how many diverse avians will come to breakfast! Before I go on, please know I find nothing at all wrong with catering to our friendly sparrows and finches, but by simply adding a little something extra to your yard or routine you can entertain many other types of birds in your landscape as well.
Providing sustenance to birds is especially important in the late fall when a number of them are migrating from their summer homes to their winter homes. It is even more important to do so throughout the barren winter months when those birds that remain in the colder climates find it difficult to locate insects, seeds and fresh berries through the ice and snow. Mother Nature does a good job of providing for and directing our wildlife, but it certainly doesn't hurt to help her out a bit when the going gets a little tough on our feathered friends.
Providing a smorgasbord for the birds can be accomplished through several means - by planting berry producing shrubs, allowing flowers and vines go to seed and of course, placing a bird feeder or two around your yard - perhaps a customized one (more on this below.)
If you browse the aisles at a nearby specialty shop, local home improvement store, or neighborhood superstore, you are sure to find a wide array of bird feeders from which to choose. If you are a beginner or have recently moved, I'd suggest a nice platform bird feeder as it allows all types and sizes of birds to dine. It will serve as your main attraction, so to speak, and later on you can add a couple of different feeders, if you wish, once the birds have recognized your home as a feeding station.
The list below is not at all exhaustive, but I'd like to share my experience with plants and feeders and the various birds they have attracted - keeping in mind I reside in North Texas:
Plants Producing Berries (mockingbirds, starlings and cedar waxwings)
Holly Berries in December 2012
Flowers to let go to Seed (chickadees and cardinals)
Types of Bird Feeders
Played: 86 | Download | Duration: 00:11:09
If you are looking for an outdoor blooming plant that can take the cold weather and come back for more, pansies are your best bet. Pansies are quite resilient and will persist even after being buried for a couple of days in ice or snow. In the southern US and warmer coastal areas, mid to late fall (now) is the perfect time to plant pansies. If you live in the north where the winters are harsh and the spring nights remain crisp, pansies are best planted in the spring to early summer. They will continue to do well until the mid-summer heat begins to wilt them.
For the purpose of this article and to tie in with the current fall season, I'll refer to planting pansies in the south and coastal areas.
My first encounter with pansies was actually as a small child through a paint-by-number set. I recall there were many paint colors that came with the pansy set, as opposed to the daisy and rose sets, and of course, the extra containers of paint was the main main reason, at 6 years old, I chose the pansies. It was a good experience because I learned early on that pansies can be found in a variety of colors and that they had "faces", otherwise known as blotches.
Indeed, pansies can be found in multiple shades and colors, from deep purples to light blues, reds to pinks, burnt oranges to pale yellows, among other hues. Most pansies we identify with have blotches, but some do not. Some pansies are considered "penciled", having lines radiating from their centers, while others are "clear" or blotchless.
Blotched or Faced Pansy
Blotchless or Clear Pansy
Pansies are of the viola genus. They are believed to have been hybridized from two other blooming plants of that particular genus - the perennial violet, or a variation thereof, and the johnny-jump-up (which looks like a tiny bi-colored penciled pansy and are often referred to as violas or violettas). In fact, some folks believe penciled and clear pansies should be classified as violas - separate from the pansy label. In researching the history and hybridization of the pansy, I must confess there are several schools of thought regarding what exactly classifies true pansies: blotch and/or blotchless, flower size, and/or number of petals pointing downward vs upward. There is also concern among some that viola can be used interchangeably as both a common name and a genus name. Going back to the previous paragraph, most commercial nurseries, when referring to pansies, are speaking of the larger flowering types that are used predominately as annual bedding plants - whether they are blotched, penciled or clear.
Putting genetics and nomenclature aside, pansies are very well adapted to the southern winters of the US and are a popular, if not the most popular, blooming plant in southern landscapes from October through March. I have found pansies do best if planted in part to full sun, two or three weeks prior to the expected first hard frost - usually in early to mid October in North Texas. Planting them a few weeks prior to the first frost (as best you can guess) allows time for the roots to establish themselves and allows the plants to be better able to withstand the oncoming cold. As mentioned earlier, pansies will withstand brief duration ice and/or snow storms. While they may look droopy and wilted for a day or two after the storm, most pansies will perk up quickly once the sun warms them a tad. Overall, pansies enjoy cooler temps and moist, but not wet, soil. If you are adorning hanging baskets with pansies this fall, be sure to give them an extra helping of mulch to aid with retaining moisture as they do not do well at all in consistently dry conditions. By adding a scoop of blood and/or bone meal to the soil when planting pansies, you will assist in supplementing needed nitrogen and phosphorus to your soil composition respectively.
And, speaking of blood and bone meal, these soil amendments are exactly what their names state they are - dried blood and ground bone particles - byproducts of our meat industry. It has been found that pansies and violets respond better to these rich, slow releasing, organic fertilizers. And since rabbits love to munch on pansies, the addition of blood and bone meal to the soil appears to deter them. (The flowers are edible and palatable to humans, too, by the way.) One big caveat, however - while the blood and bone deters little rabbits, it acts like a magnet to big dogs! So . . . if your pansies are planted in common or accessible areas, you have your choice of losing a few nibbles to rabbits or potentially having to replant your beds due to errant dogs digging them up looking for remnants to the blood and bone meal!
Outside of the four-legged pests, the only other pests you may have trouble with regarding your pansies are snails and slugs - however in the cooler seasons they aren't quite as numerous so you shouldn't lose too many petals to them. If you find you have an issue with them, there are quite a few organic or otherwise safe solutions on the market that specifically target them.
A plot of smiling faces!
On to a more positive note - a bonus to their beautiful colors is that en masse, pansies produce a sweet, light fragrance. When there isn't much blooming outdoors, it is nice to come across a field of flowers that not only enhances our view, but our sense of smell as well!
In conclusion, whether you are wanting to produce a warm, autumn feel by planting pansies in yellows, oranges and maroons around your fall pumpkins or a cool, crisp feel by planting a palate of blues, whites and purples among the fading grass or ornamental cabbages, you are sure to benefit from the persistence of pansies, and the rare beauty of that trait.
Until next time,
This post is dedicated to Mike's recently departed grandmother of 100 years, Ms. Viola Weseman. As her namesake suggests - her strength, beauty, good nature and love of family still persists . . .
Played: 58 | Download | Duration: 00:08:30
Pumpkins on a doorstep, along flowerbeds and in yard displays provide an instant fall feel to any yard or landscape come September and October. (Even when it is 87 degrees outside as it is today in North Texas!) I always buy two to three pumpkins around this time of year to place in a cluster near my flowerbed of golden lantana. The combination is magic!
I mentioned to my boyfriend recently that he needed a pumpkin or two in his front yard to provide a little autumn spice to his house. Being an avid gardener and self-proclaimed amateur landscape architect like myself, he didn't take too well to having someone else offer suggestions for HIS yard! Don't get me wrong, he wasn't disrespectful, he just stated he had other plans for his fall decor. I let it drop, but I continued to browse the pumpkin patches and outdoor displays at the local grocery stores - just in case the perfect pumpkin appeared!
One day last week, I was making a stop at the grocery store before heading over to my boyfriend's. I love to use the little mini-rolling grocery carts as they are much easier for my 5 foot 1 inch, 50 year old body to maneuver. I spied one out in the parking lot on the way into the store and grabbed it.
As I was rolling up to the entrance of the grocery store, I saw three huge cartons filled with pumpkins just to the left of the doorway. My cart was on auto-pilot, veering toward the orange gourds. I was viewing them from a distance, as I knew the closer I got the more likely I'd buy one or two and I knew my boyfriend wasn't keen on having them in his yard - not yet anyway - as he hadn't laid out his plan.
As I looked from a distance, out of the corner of my eye I saw a young man rounding up errant carts and lining them up for new customers. He saw me peering at the pumpkins and noticed I was deep in thought. He loudly spoke in my direction, "Do you want a pumpkin?" I jolted from my thoughts, looked over at him and discovered he was an employee of the store with Down Syndrome. He had the most excited expression on his face. He asked me again, "Do you want a pumpkin?" I told him I didn't know, that I was really just looking. He came over and said, "Don't worry, I will find you the biggest pumpkin!" and he proceeded to move dozens of pumpkins out of the huge box. I stood there watching as he sweated and worked to find the biggest pumpkin. I told him several times not to bother looking further, that the one he just had in his hand was fine. Nope, he continued to dig in the box. At last, he came to a gargantuan pumpkin near the bottom of the box. He worked his arms one way, then another, and then climbed into the box to get to the giant pumpkin. Once he had a good grasp on it, he picked it up and heaved it into my basket. He then very proudly and with a brilliant smile on his face proclaimed, "I found THE biggest pumpkin for you!"
I thanked him with mutual tears of joy in my eyes and rolled into the store.
Thank goodness all I truly needed to pick up was a loaf of bread and a half gallon of milk. There literally was no room for anything more in my basket and I could barely push the cart as it was! In fact, one little boy that encountered me in the store pointed and exclaimed, "Look mom, it's The Great Pumpkin."
Indeed it is . . . and it sits magnificently in my boyfriend's front yard for all to see!
Until next time,
The Great Pumpkin of 2012!
Played: 56 | Download | Duration: 00:05:49
Photo courtesy of http://www.peacefulmind.com/fall.htm
I would venture to say the vast majority of us who are so very fortunate to have the gift of sight use this sense the most when it comes to admiring nature. We see beautiful blooms, brilliant leaves, expansive grass fields, gorgeous birds, inviting springs, immense oceans, rare wildlife sightings and much, much more. When we see something quite rare, we grasp for our cameras or cell phones these days in an attempt to capture the sight forever in a still photograph or perhaps a short video. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to hold onto and view a stunning scene over and again. In fact, I grab for my cell phone often to snap pictures to post on this very blog in particular!
Today I wish to speak about another sense we humans possess and use when it comes to enjoying nature – hearing! What brought this blog post to mind was a recent walk I took one morning while at work. I work in a suburban area and had reason to walk over a couple of blocks or so to secure some pastries from a corner bakery for a meeting we were having that day. It was a particularly damp and foggy October morning - not terribly cool, though. As I walked next to a steady stream of traffic, there opened up a long break in the automobiles which allowed me to leisurely walk across the three lane street. Before I entered the bakery, I heard slight popping noises from above. The lack of automobiles and the heavy fog seemed to accentuate the noise. As I looked around, I thought it had suddenly begun to rain, but it had not. I stopped a moment and discovered the noise was the sound of the dense fog landing on the crisp, fall leaves of maple trees overhead. It was a soothing sound, very appropriate for the changing of seasons. This led me to ponder upon the other sounds I am hearing this time of year:
The pings and bangs of acorns – depending upon their size – as they fall from oak trees onto rooftops, cars, sidewalks and walkways;
The crackling of dried leaves from deciduous trees blowing in circles at entranceways to homes and buildings as the northern winds (northerners) become more frequent;
The howling of coyotes and outdoor hound dogs as the nights grow cooler and longer;
The rustlings of berry-gorging birds, such as Cedar Waxwings, as entire flocks descend upon and strip nandinas, yaupons and other hollies of their bounty;
The squawking of geese in V-formation, flying far overhead and south for the winter; and,
on very still mornings,
The popping open of mature seed pods, expelling their greatest achievement for our reward next season.
Cedar Waxwings gorging on fall berries. Photo courtesty of http://www.allaboutbirds.org
As I write this note, I continue to think of the common, but still beautiful, sights and smells of fall - trees set brilliantly afire with chlorophyll-deprived leaves, mature pumpkins and gourds on the vine or strategically arranged on doorsteps and, of course, the aroma of fresh-mown hay and fresh-baked cinnamon-laced cakes and pies. Yet, I’m sure if I intently focused on the sounds of nature around me for a few additional days, I’d probably be able to collect many more tones and timbres that I subconsciously relate to the fall season.
In turn, I’d love to hear about the sounds that bring the fall season to mind for you –
Until next time,
Played: 83 | Download | Duration: 00:05:21
Played: 127 | Download | Duration: 00:05:30
With the incredible heat wave hitting the midwestern and southern US this summer (it is expected to be 104 degrees today in North Central Texas), I was pondering what could I possibly write about regarding gardening or landscaping when our plants are simply struggling to stay alive? I admit, after vacationing, my veggie garden has literally bit the dust - for it did not have the luxury of a daily hand watering while I was away. Bell peppers not quite ripe when I left are now scalded and shriveled. I may be able to salvage the pepper plants themselves and hope for a crop in the late fall. I'm also hoping my one surviving pumpkin plant holds on. If you are in the same boat as I, don't pull up the plants just yet. Instead, give them a trim and pamper them with mulch and water as best you can. You may even consider erecting some shade cloth shelters if you are so determined. I've always heard it said there are two growing seasons in Texas - spring and fall. Unfortunately, summer is indeed about as devastating to greenery in Texas as winter is in the far northern states. There is, however, something you may consider doing in the garden about now - now that summer is supposedly winding down and garden clearance sales are in effect: establishing solar lighting.
By now, I am sure you have at least seen the very inexpensive solar landscape lights in and around both the discount and home improvement stores. I am as fascinated with solar lighting as I am with my solar bird bath fountain. Since solar lighting has become more popular in recent years, the availability and variety of sizes and styles has greatly increased. You're sure to find a style, or two, that you like. You are also likely to find a solar option for just about any circumstance you may have for lighting in the landscape.
Most solar lights recommend they (or their solar panels) are placed in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight in order for them to provide adequate lighting. The longer the exposure to sunlight, the brighter and longer the duration of light each lamp will provide.
The small path lights found in most any store these days are quite pretty and especially functional at entrances and exits to your home and/or business. My mom, living out in "the country", benefits from solar reflective lights marking the drainage ditches at the end of her long driveway. They provide a guide, or landing strip, you might say, as we enter or exit her property. They are also very valuable to those of us suffering from night blindness! Nowadays you can purchase patio umbrellas with built-in solar lighting or, if you already have an umbrella, you can purchase a kit for your existing shade. Solar lighting under an umbrella provides the same lovely ambience as candlelight. -And speaking of candlelight, you can also find a variety of solar lanterns to mimic candles, again, to place around your patio as needed - or hang from a fence, pergola, or in a deciduous tree during the wintertime. If you need lighting but are one that prefers things au naturale in the landscape, consider the solar lights/spotlights that come in the form of realistic-looking rocks and boulders. The most recent solar lighting purchase I made was that of a color-changing angel on a stake. After visiting the cemetery where my nephew is laid to rest, I saw a color changing light in the distance on another grave. It provided a soothing, beacon-like ambience and I wanted my nephew's resting place to feel the same. Since most cemeteries receive quite a bit of sun, these staked items really do well in that environment, and again, there are a number of styles and symbols to choose from.
In addition to being green and saving electricity, solar lights can be used indoors in cases of power outages occurring at night. I have to admit, I borrowed this idea from my city's emergency operations center - but I thought it was quite brilliant. (No pun intended!) During a thunderstorm, or perhaps a rolling brown-out or black-out, simply pull up one or two of your solar path lights and stake them in an interior potted plant or through an upside down cardboard box. Place in the center of the room and you'll have bright light for a few hours without the danger of using candles or experiencing the inconvenience of finding that your battery-operated devices have run-down batteries. A co-worker of mine keeps a couple of solar path lights in the potted plants on her sunny doorstep just for this reason.
In conclusion, while there isn't much you can do in the way of gardening during 100+ degree temps, you can still enhance and transform your outdoors with the strategic placement of solar lighting. After all, most of us simply aren't able to enjoy our gardens and patios during the dog days of summer until the sun has gone down!
Until next time -
This blog post is dedicated to my oldest nephew, Ryan, who left this physical world three years ago, but shall live in my heart until I see him again.
Played: 84 | Download | Duration: 00:07:59
Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel at Seven Falls in Manitou Springs, Colorado Photo by Cindy Pierce June 2012
The above photo is by far one of my favorites of all time. I took it a few weeks ago while vacationing in Colorado. My boyfriend and I broke away from the rest of the extended family and took my mom on a special day of local excursions in the southern area of Colorado. Along with the famous Pike's Peak Cog Railway, we also visited Seven Falls - a beautiful canyoned area in Manitou Springs that boasts a tall, seven level waterfall. There are several ways you can view the seven-level waterfall - from the ground, from a viewing platform a few stories high, and from the top of the canyon via a steep and lengthy, zig-zag staircase. You can also view the falls at night when they are lighted with many colors.
While my boyfriend and I took the quick elevator ride up to the mid-level viewing platform, my mom decided to hang out at the base. Along the creek and pathways of the park, hung large double hanging baskets of beautiful, healthy red, white and purple petunias. My mom appeared to be intently admiring these flower baskets as my boyfriend and I tried to get her attention from the viewing platform for a photo op. No luck.
When we arrived back down at base, my mom began laughing and telling us how a ground squirrel was sprawled in the middle of one of the Petunia baskets, eating away at the flowers. I thought it must've been a funny sight and wondered just how the Petunias stayed so abundant with the number of ground squirrels around. As my boyfriend decided to take the trek up to the top of the falls, my mom and I sat on a park bench, watched the Native American dancers and simply took in the scenery. We watched the rainbow trout swim in the nearby pond and the chipmunks and ground squirrels dart around and scoop up crumbs of dropped tourist food. Suddenly, I saw a rather large ground squirrel appear in the center of one of the Petunia baskets right next to us. Camera in hand, I snapped several photos as the critter rapidly tore off Petunia blooms one at a time and stuffed them in its mouth. She was absolutely adorable (if you look closely at the photo, "she" appears to have nursing babies). I'm sure the maintenance crews at Seven Falls probably don't find the squirrels quite as adorable as we did. I'm sure they are tasked with replacing the flowers in the baskets quite often. But, then again, perhaps the squirrels provide a natural deadheading and trimming service, enabling the plant to regenerate? *More on this later . . .
Witnessing how rapid this one little squirrel devoured multiple blooms, it reminded me of how quickly a newly planted bed of Petunias can disappear from our yards at home. From my research, it appears that white tail deer, rabbits, and all types of rodents (including squirrels) enjoy the taste of Petunias. The vibrantly colored blooms are like neon signs beckoning these mammals to come over and partake of them. In addition to animals, insects seem to very much enjoy Petunias as well, especially worms and most especially, the tobacco hornworm.
Petunias are of of the Solanaceae family, commonly known as the nightshade family. The nightshade family is a large family of flowering plants; their flowers being tubular or semi-tubular, with some flower varieties having fused petals. If you look closely at a Petunia's bloom, you will see the margins of its fused petals.
The nightshade family consists of both very popular edible plants and in contrast, very toxic plants - some fatally toxic, such as belladonna. Among the important agricultural plants of the nightshade family are tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes. I find it quite ironic that some of the most common vegetables we eat, perhaps on a daily basis (think tomatoes on hamburgers, in salsa, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, etc.) are found in the same classification as deadly belladonna! However, speaking of the toxicity of nightshades, some of the plants in this family are toxic in high doses but are helpful and/or useful in smaller doses. For example, extracts of some of the plants of this family are used to curb the nausea of motion sickness and in chemotherapy patients. Also, the capsaicin extract of peppers is used in pepper spray - a personal safety device that sprays and temporarily stuns people and other mammals.
Another interesting plant of the nightshade family is nicotiana or tobacco. I suppose the effect nicotine has on the body can certainly be described as drug-like or addictive when we consider the many different effects the varied nightshade plants have on the body.
It has been determined it is the alkaloid compounds of nightshades that give the plant its helpful and/or harmful attributes. Although there is no consensus among researchers, it is thought best for people suffering from nerve, muscle and/or joint conditions to limit or avoid food of the nightshade family due to the inflammatory effects alkaloids may have on these body functions. It is good to note here also, that if you have heard the old wives' tale to avoid eating green potatoes, you may wish to take heed. While it is the cholorphyll in the potato that actually makes it green, the color also corresponds with a higher presence of alkaloids. Same with green tomatoes.
If you have a form of arthritis, as do I, but absolutely love one or more of the nightshade veggies, it is good to note that cooking them reduces the amount of alkaloids by about 40 - 50%. So, cooked tomatoes are less "toxic" than those just out of the garden. I admit I still eat tomatoes in both manners, but I just don't overdo it either way. As you know, there are very good compounds found in tomatoes too - such as Vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene.
Well, back to Petunias and what eats them. You may be able to guess that Petunias fall into a benign branch of the nightshade family that is safe for mammals to eat versus one of the highly poisonous or deadly branches. While Petunias do possess alkaloids like the rest of the nightshades, it does not possess the highly toxic form. And because the vibrant, sweet-tasting blooms of Petunias are borne without thorns or thistles, critters find them irresistible and easy to eat. In addition to mammals devouring your Petunias, as I mentioned earlier, some worms are especially attracted to nightshades as well. The tobacco hornworm (a very large, bright green worm) that you can guess - loves the nightshade plant, tobacco - really isn't all that discerning when tobacco isn't around. This worm will attack any nightshade plant, including your tomato, pepper and potato plants. Of course, it likes Petunias as well!
Tobacco Hornworm courtesy of http://coopext.colostate.edu/4dmg/Pests/tomato.htm
An interesting side note is Morning Glory and Moonflower Vine were once considered a part of the nightshade family in the past, but their family has been changed, of late, to Convolvulaceae. If you go one classification step up, however, they remain in the same Order as nightshades and have some of the same flower and alkaloid characteristics. The reason I bring this up is because their flowers are very similar to Petunias in shape and size and you'll see the tobacco hornworm likes feasting on the leaves of these vines as well. In addition, if you have both Moonflowers and Petunias in your landscape, the large, hummingbird-sized parent moths of these worms (Sphinx Moths) will visit both flowers equally!
In closing, just what can you do to keep your Petunias full and healthy, or at least alive, this season? With regard to mammals like the cute little critter in the photo at the top of my blog post, ironically, the use of another nightshade plant may be the best solution! Spraying diluted hot pepper juice or sprinkling hot pepper flakes around your ornamentals and vegetables may help dissuade these critters' palates. I would administer the pepper spray in the late evening hours so the sun does not intensify the solution, however. About the tobacco hornworm? The pepper juice spray might help, but then again sometimes the hornworm actually eats green peppers so simply removing the gargantuan worms by hand (ugh) may be the best way to control them. While I don't like to handle insects by hand, I still find them fascinating and would never purposely kill them (yellow jackets are an exception, btw!). Personally, I love the mature moths that the hornworms develop into and simply find the larvae don't do that much damage to my ornamentals and therefore I do not do anything to specifically deter them from my yard. I often see their droppings but resign myself to knowing I'll have more moths to admire in late summer/early fall. (Yes, these worms are big enough to have droppings to see and in fact, this is one way to locate them on your plants. For as big as they are - they are incredibly hard to see as they excellently blend with the greenery.) If you have kiddos or are a curious adult, click http://www.birds-n-garden.com/white-lined_sphinx_hummingbird_moths.html to see how to raise the tobacco hornworms you pick off your plants and transform them into gorgeous, iridescent, hummingbird-sized Sphinx Moths.
*Keep in mind, if your efforts to reduce damage to your Petunias by animals or insects are less than successful, do not fret if you still have roots and stems intact. Oftentimes, with a little pampering, you may be able to bring forth a stronger plant as Petunias are known to bounce back more fully when trimmed and deadheaded.
Taking into consideration:
- overindulging in edible nightshades may aggravate illness, but eliminating them entirely will cause you to miss out on vitmains and antioxidants;
- overindulgence of some compounds of nightshades may kill you, while small quantities may indeed heal you; and,
- aggresively ridding every pest from your nightshades may burn them (pepper juice) or cause leggy overgrowth, allowing a few pests to "trim" the plants may actually promote regeneration;
I'd like to end this post today by saying I believe we can view the contrasting properties of the fascinating plants of the nightshade family as a perfect justification of the age-old adage, Moderation in All Things . . .
Until next time,
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