Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Different Kind of Soil Test

Last Saturday I attended the Sierra Club's annual Community Environmental Conference. The conference was packed with interesting sessions on topics related to how human activities and choices affect our environment and often endanger the our planet. Among other things, I learned about mountaintop removal to mine coal in West Virginia and how it not only destroys the beauty of the land but also contaminates drinking water distant from the removal site. I also learned some frightening things about nuclear waste disposal, including, the fact that Tennessee received or produced at least 75% of the nation's low level radioactive waste, as well as radioactive waste shipped here from Germany. Did you know that the only facility in the nation where radioactive steam generators from pressurized water reactors are taken for processing is right here on President's Island? 

Like most conferences, this one included a number of vendors. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was conducting a soilSHOP, (the name stands for Soil, Screening, Health, Outreach and Partnership), and they were testing soil. No, not the kind of soil test that we gardeners usually think of but tests for lead and other nasty things we definitely don't like to think about being in our gardens, especially our vegetable gardens. They were also talking about safe gardening practices as they relate to soil contaminants.

Unfortunately, I did not know about the soil testing before I arrived at the conference so I did not have a sample to be tested. But I learned that lead and other chemical elements we fear are found in all soil but the important question is to what degree. Apparently, these chemicals do not readily move from the soil into plant tissue (this varies somewhat depending on the type of plant), and the greatest danger is the contaminated soil itself. I asked one of the gentleman working at the booth if they had other events planned for the Memphis area and he indicated they did not but could possibly set up one if there was sufficient interest. 

This made me think about what a great thing this would be to offer to local gardeners at a venue like Spring Fling.  Many of us are growing a few vegetables in flowerbeds and who knows what chemical elements are in there . . . ? And this may be even more relevant to community gardeners and school gardeners, who may be growing plants in soils previously used for commercial or industrial purposes.

Click here to find out more about this agency and soil contaminants.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Fall Planting

I wandered into Dan West Garden Center the other day looking for inspiration for this blog post where upon Kenneth Mabry reminded me that "fall is our best planting season". That comment stirred my thinking about how to make the most of our tree, shrub and even perennial purchases.

As all our local garden experts
content_img.9315.img.jpgseem to agree, this clay soil we garden
is a force with which to be reckoned!

Digging a hole and putting the plant right into it, is much like stuffing it into a clay pot without drainage. The roots will suffer, being submerged in water. Kenneth says, dig the hole deep enough and twice as wide. Essential to his formula is amending the soil and setting the plant a little above the level of the dirt to allow for settling and drainage.
Image result for how to dig a hole for planting

A handout I have from Diane Meucci at Gardens Oy Vey is quite clear about pine bark mulch being a soil conditioner and not really a mulch at all. so she recommends mixing three inches into three inches of the soil in which you are planting.
Related image Her website is quite helpful and includes
 these planting instructions.
and making it friendly
for the new plants roots.
After all, a plant is only as good 
as its roots.

I was instructed
when purchasing
a trio of Farfugium
to think of my "hole"
more as a saucer than a cup,
and to build the soil
up to the level needed. 
The plants have certainly thrived!

This brings me to a little recent story in my gardening life...As I set out on a walk, I observed a spot under an oak tree that would nicely accommodate several azaleas. So, as I walked, I began planning. The thought of how to DIG under this tree, with its formidable roots, however was a hurdle. I had not gotten far into my daydream/walk when there on the curb for trash pick up were five lovely old azaleas, dug up for me and free for the taking! Heading home in high gear, I rounded up some help, rescued the azaleas and in about thirty minutes had set those plants about 3 or 4 feet away from the trunk of the oak tree and shored them up with bagged top soil left over from another project. I had nothing to lose and so far four of the bushes are thriving. Maybe next spring they will be blooming.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Results of Some 2017 Summer Gardening Experiments

In earlier posts this year, I talked about several new things I was trying this year, and I want to report on two of those things. One was a new (at least to me) type of self-watering planter that I used for tomatoes. In the past, I've had real problems trying to grow tomatoes in pots. Even when I used what I considered to be large pots, they were a real challenge to keep watered. In the hottest part of the summer, pots watered in the morning became dry as a bone before the day was over. If you are a tomato grower, you understand how much tomato plants resent insufficient or inconsistent moisture.  

I was excited to find these planters on sale at a big box store in the spring and I bought two of them.  I planted tomatoes in both, following the instructions about adding lime to the potting soil. The tomatoes grew like gangbusters, and I found that the water reservoir was big enough so that they needed watering only every other day, even in the hottest weather.  However, they quickly outgrew their support. A strong wind in the late spring blew them over but did not damage the plant. I ended up leaning them against the patio table and that's where they've remained all summer. I'll use them again next year, but I'll be smarter about the kind of plant I use, choosing a smaller tomato variety. 

The other thing I tried this year was planting several types of plants directly in the stream bed of our water feature.  I planted impatiens and abelia without soil, just wedging the roots in crevices between the rocks to keep them from washing away. The abelia began to die immediately. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I've never had any luck with abelia. Those that I planted in pots and in garden beds died as well.) But the impatiens loved their watery home! Here is a single plant, shortly after I planted it in early spring.

Here is the same plant in early September (and two of his friends I planted at the same time). The red flower is Lobelia cardinalis, the red cardinal flower. 

The iris and the cardinal flower above are growing in this planting bag made especially for water plants. I transplanted cardinal flower seedlings from garden beds, placing them bare-rooted in this netted pond bag in a shallow spot in the stream. The picture above shows what they looked like a few weeks after being planted. I also stuck the random iris in the bag as well because I liked the height the iris provided.

There is one other plant experiment that I want to mention. I had a lot of mole damage over the winter and one of our hostas that had been large last year emerged as a tiny shoot this spring. Rather than leave the last little bit for the vole, I dug the tiny crown up and plopped it into the stream bed. It was so small that I didn't think it would survive. I placed it near the impatiens and forgot about it. Here's what it looks like today, in early September. I'll let it grow another month or so then transplant it to a more permanent place. 

On the other hand, I wonder what would happen if I left it in the stream bed over the winter . . .? Hostas are suppose to be very cold hardy; in fact, they prefer a much colder climate than we have. Maybe this is an experiment that will continue through the winter.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Welcome and Welcome Back

In a largish flower pot by our mailbox I have been trying out, over the last few years, several annual vines. I could procure a more predictable Mandevilla or a more reliable Clematis. But experimentation can be fun.

Last years selection was "Cypress Vine" (Ipomoea quamoclit). Agonizing a bit about the wisdom of starting what many consider an invasive thug, I concluded that the majority of complaints along those lines came from warmer climes and I would give it a try. As pictured above I ordered a mixture of colors white, pink and red in seed form, and nursed them along through early spring. They did not disappoint! Their cheery star shaped trumpets greeted us all through the summer and into the fall. 

This year I successfully grew from seed "fragrant corkscrew vine" (Vigna caracalla) not only by soaking them overnight but by starting the process with boiling water. As I recall 8 of the 10 germinated. Starting them out in the green cardboard boxes that strawberries come in allowed me to disturb the roots as little as possible when the time came to put them outside. I shared most of them.

The one I put in the vegetable garden succumbed to chipmunks or voles or day it was there the next it was not. But the one in the pot by the mailbox flourished!

Its 'leaves of three' may have caused the neighbors to scratch their heads about my growing poison ivy, I have to admit I wondered myself about this experiment. But here in late summer it is becoming apparent that this is something different and fragrant and lovely.

And guess who came back! The Cypress Vine! With her ferny leaves and little red trumpet stars.

Monday, August 28, 2017

R&R Summer's Ups and Downs

It been over two months since by last post and the summer gardening has had its ups and downs. In fact I would say that the summer is, in many ways, the most challenging season of the year. There always seem to be the some disappointments from what seems like a good start in Spring. Anyway, here is a recap of the ups and downs.

Hibiscus moscheutos
Hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos): definitely an up. One of the first plants I bought when I moved to Olive Branch in 2001 it has bloomed every year. My hibiscus is a six foot plant with large pink flower (they are also red and other flower varieties). It's the June star of the flowers of my full sun flowerbed. The flowers close in the early afternoon; this phenomena is called nyctynasty. The flowers are spent now but the foliage remains, I'll leave it up until February and then cut it back to the ground.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta): definitely an up. Another perennial that's been around for more than a decade. Three feet tall with yellow flowers and a black center the Susans have bloomed for over two months and are still going strong. While other plants faded out this plant just keeps going throughout the summer heat. Gotta love that!
Lilies (Lilium): Asiatic Hybrid definitely an up. True lilies, not Day lilies which are Hemerocallis. I bought 25 bulbs from White Flower Farms and planted them in March. They did great producing a number of pretty flowers. I purchased a mix so I had red, orange white and yellow blossoms that lasted about a month.

Lilium Asiatic Hybrid
Lilies (Lilium): Oriental Hybrid were up and down.  Another White Flower Farm purchase this year. Of the three bulbs only two managed to produce flowers and the flowers were short-lived. These were planted in a part sun bed but I don't think that was the reason for their mediocre performance. My reference books say the Oriental Hybrids are more difficult to grow than the Asiatic Hybrids. That was my experience as well. On the positive side the blossoms were very pretty even though that didn't last.
Spider Lilies and Naked Ladies (Lycoris squamigera and Lycoris radiata): were up and down. Both
varieties of lycoris bloomed in late July/early August but were gone too quickly; plus the Naked Ladies by the mailbox only produced one blossom as opposed to three in other years.
Dahlia (Dahlia) way up with a little down. Another of my spring 

purchases, Dahlias are known for their large flowers and it's hard to argue with that. Last week I picked the prettiest yellow flower that I have ever grown, a blossom larger than my hand. There are some downsides to Dahlias in my opinion. While the flowers are gorgeous the plant itself is not pretty at all; its appearance reminds me of a smaller version of pig weed that is a curse of cotton growers. Also, I have had to stake the flower stalks. (I'm a tough love gardener and expect plants to make it with minimal help from me.)
Mulberry weed definitely a down this year. This is devilish weed; at only two inches in height it will produce seeds and produce them in abundance. Whoever is in charge of weeding my garden did a poor job the last two months. The heat makes for a less than enthusiastic gardener when it comes to weeding, at least it does that to me.
Okra and Cucumbers and Hostas: all downers. Dr. Brewster M. Higley may have been fond of deer (Higley wrote the poem that became the song "Home on the Range") but they did in my vegetable garden and my poor hostas. It was positively a case of "hosta la vista baby". Sorry about that, but the pun was too good/too bad to pass up.
I'll close with two poems one by Anonymous published in 1602 about Naked Ladies (unfortunately or fortunately depending on your point of view, not about Lycoris) and one about Lilies by Raymond A Foss.

by Anonymous

My love in her attire doth show her wit,
    It doth so well become her;
For every season she hath dressings fit,
    For winter, spring, and summer,
    No beauty she doth miss
    When all her robes are on;
     But beauty's self she is
    When all her robes are gone.

Raymond A. Foss
Clothed Like the Lilies
by Raymond A. Foss

In the finery of God
our every need met
in wondrous grace

Clothed like the lilies
fed like the birds
watered like the grasses
held in his arms

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Glorious Caladium

I’m not sure there is any plant dependent on foliage for beauty that can surpass the self-dramatization of caladium in the garden throughout the growing season.  In a previous garden, I paired
Caladium having green-veined white leaves with dusty miller (Jacobaea maritima) and variegated monkey grass (Liriope muscari ’Variegata) against a backdrop of variegated privet (Ligustrum sinense ‘Variegata’).  I loved the green and white palette and the vertical design, and the caladiums always seemed to leap forth with a joyful nodding to greet me.

Caladiums are grown as ornamental plants in large “fancy-leaved” and “lance-leaved” or "strap leaf" forms.  The more common of these is the “fancy-leaved” form with its heart-shaped white, pink, or red leaves, whose veins in contrasting colors add to the beauty of the leaves.  Common names for Caladium are elephant ear, Heart of Jesus and Angel Wings.  The epithet “elephant ear” is more likely associated with Alocasia or Colocasia, whose leaves are much larger and thus more emblematic of the name.  The true elephant ears (Colocasia) have wintered over in my garden during mild winters, but not my caladiums.  They are a tropical South American plant, zone ten (note details of caladium cultivation).  In zone 7, the tubers should be lifted before frost, cleaned of soil, and stored in a cool location.

My favorite formal display of caladiums this year is in the bed leading to the Hughes Pavillion at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. There, one finds a thickly planted circle of a variety that is new to me: 'Frog in a Blender.' I bought tubers of this variety at the Dixon Garden Fair early this year and planted them in pots. When these beauties popped up and started unfurling, they didn't stop until they were more than three feet tall! Had Dale Skaggs' garden workers mislabeled Colocasia as Caladium?  Not so.  This new variety is not only as tall as some Colocasia, but produces many beautifully variegated leaves for a 
striking display.  While I have trouble imagining real frogs in a blender, I can see that the name refers to the combination of lime-green splotches against a dark green background.  That touch of red in the center of each leaf is hardly visible here and certainly not dramatic like the red veins in "Fantasy" at the bottom of the picture.  I prefer to think of the red as the frog’s eye.

How does one add the “Wow! Factor” to shaded gardens?  At the Memphis Botanic Garden, caladiums are an obvious choice to brighten shady nooks.  Along the pathway to the herb garden, for example, a patch of white caladiums with green veins sparkles in the shady area near the dry creek bed, and just   
over the bridge at the entrance to this garden, the smaller lance-leaved (or strap leaf) Caladium 'Desert Sunrise' seems to pop out of the dark shade beneath Colocasia 'Mojito' to welcome visitors.  "Desert Sunrise' is doing well in the shade here, but the strap leaf variety can tolerate more sun than the fancy-leaved variety. Near the entrance to the garden, beside the rectangular fountain, Caladium 'White Wonder' thrives with Croton variegatum and other sun-loving plants.


Caladiums brighten porches all over Midtown and will continue to do so until temperatures drop.  A fernery plant stand on my porch presents a mixture of ‘Frog in a Blender,’ ‘Fantasy,’ and ‘Candidum, Jr.’ all from the Dixon sale.  Rectangular concrete pots with red and pink caladiums invite visitors to neighboring porches.  Caladiums are also planted in some flowerbeds.  Patience is key to successful inground planting.  The gardener must wait until the ground warms; otherwise, the tubers may rot in the rains that come in early spring.  Also, the tubers take three to four weeks to emerge after the ground warms to about 70 degrees.  I learned both of these lessons the hard way.

Caladiums will bloom only if conditions are right.  One of my plants did bloom this summer, although the bloom (which looked like a stunted Calla lily bloom) was less spectacular than the foliage and lasted less than a week.  But who needs blossoms when the glorious foliage of caladiums lasts an entire season?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What's going well in your garden?

It's been said that our gardens are always the most beautiful in January because in that frigid, non-verdant month it is all in our heads: the seeds we plan to start early, the trimming we plan to do to get in a little more sun, the arm loads of harvest from our vegetable gardens, the woodland path we think of putting in and that all important focal point at its end. It will all be splendid! Weeds grow not in my dreams, and cucumber beetles are non existent. And if these problems arise THIS YEAR I know just the thing to eliminate them. I have my watering system all planned out and, of course, it all comes into color at the same ytime so that in my MIND, the hydrangeas of early summer contrast beautifully with the scarlet runner beans of late summer. The dreams of January! 

But it is now the hot middle of summer and reality has set in for us all. So I ask, "What is going well in your garden?" 

In my garden there are three C's that are bringing me joy; three C's that actually exceeded my expectations. 

The first is COLEUS. The seeds I planted back in February thrived under the grow light in my garage and I had enough to share with a friend.
These bursts of color in the cool shade are most rewarding.
The second C stands for CUCUMBERS. For two years now I have ordered from Park Seed the seeds of a most deliciously sweet cucumber called Diva.  And while They are a slender 6 to 8 inches when picked, they produce abundantly. There is a family debate about whether or not to dress them with Apple Cider Vinegar.
The C that brings me the most joy, however is the CHAPEL GARDEN. Blessed with two family weddings this fall I dedicated one raised bed to a chapel-looking bird house I found on the man's discard... A rock path, some zinnias, marigolds and volunteer sunflowers complimented the rosemary and thyme that were already in place. It takes a bit of pruning to make sure the little chapel does not get lost in the foliage; maybe I should have cut back the zinnias before their first bloom. But they are reasonably cooperative and resemble exotic trees surrounding the chapel path.

There are plenty of disappointments in my garden this year; that is part of it, right? So I'll choose today to ask myself, "What is going well in my garden?" 
What is going well in yours?