Monday, March 5, 2018

What We Bring and What We Leave Behind


  It is shocking what an absolute ARMY of time and talent is required to prepare for the Memphis Botanic Garden Spring Plant Sale! And, by the way, lets use those words "time" and "talent" loosely; many of us bring only a couple of hours here and there and sometimes poor talent. There are, however, leaders who oversee this operation with time and talent in spades.  

    Willing volunteers were told to bring gloves and clippers but present themselves with much more than that: life experiences, garden lore, compassion and friendship. They bring to that few hours their past, present and future, cuttings to share and seeds to exchange, stories to share and hope or dreams to exchange and inspire. Most of all they bring acceptance, willingness and grace.

    But what do these volunteers NOT bring into the greenhouses? It is a funny picture indeed: all of their troubles in the parking lot of 750 Cherry Road  mingling with the cares of fellow gardeners: a disagreeable boss, missing or deceased pets,  addictions,  and family woes. Slouching in the cars and turning on the radios out of boredom are difficult neighbors, budgeting issues, and  business decisions, fears of the future and disagreements.

      For a few precious hours the multifaceted lives of the gardeners are focused on nothing more than the future beauty of a wretched looking bulb they are planting in the correct sized pot and good conversation with a fellow gardener. The problems they face in those greenhouse hours are ones they can generally solve or at least there is someone nearby who can.

    The lives of the volunteers weave into productivity and chatter; while out under the trees wander about  medical decisions, voles that eat prized plants, a dinner that went awry, politicians with whom they disagree, aging and ill relatives, wayward teenagers, car trouble, pressures and expectations. Should any of these woes come in on one's back it is soon sulking back to the car, unable to tolerate the caring warmth of community. And when the respite is over, life for the volunteer seems more manageable; courage, compassion and perspective have been renewed and imparted.

     Volunteers bring gloves and clippers, life, time, willingness to learn and to share, to be present and to befriend; they bring compassion, stories, hopes, inspiration, kind words and acceptance.
They leave behind trouble and cares and fears, finding in the greenhouse seeds of hope.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The End of a Long Growing Season

Does anyone else think this has been the longest growing season ever? You have to wonder what this long growing season will do to next year's blooms, given how much energy has been used to produce blooms in this long growing season. I have only a few azaleas that are suppose to be repeat bloomers, but nearly every variety has put out at least a small flush of blooms this fall. As I write this on December 5, I have one spring-blooming azalea that is covered with flowers, not the scanty bloom that often happens in the fall, but nearly a full spring-like bloom.

The weatherman is predicting nighttime temperatures around or below freezing in the next few days, so I decided to take a walk around the garden to appreciate the blooms one last time before cold temperatures destroy them. The sasanqua camellias that I wrote about earlier in the month continue to put on a show. There may be a few buds that are tight enough to survive a cold snap but I'm guessing I've seen the last of camellia blooms until the Japonicas bloom in the spring.

The fall bloom of the roses has been exceptional this year and long-lasting compared with most years. Every rosebush in my garden is in bloom to some extent. I considered picking some to take inside, but the bushes have grown so large on  the types that are best for cutting that I can't reach the flowers. After they have gone dormant, I'll trim these large bushes back a bit to keep them from being beaten around by the wind.

I know the cold weather this week will take out these blooms, and, in previous years, that has made me a little sad. This year, however, I don't mind. These plants have worked hard this season, and I feel they are ready for their winter's rest. I'm ready, too. I'll settle in with my catalogs and await their reappearance next spring.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sasanqua Season

I'm a big fan of the fall-blooming Sasanqua camellias. I have a pink one, strategically planted so that I can see it from the kitchen table when I'm having my morning coffee. (The picture at the right was literally taken from the kitchen table.) I chose its location partly to maximize viewing its bloom and partly to provide a screen from my neighbor's house. Sasanquas often have an open, lanky growth habit (compared with the Japonica type of camellia), as this one does. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see thin new growth at the very top, but next year it will fill in and look less scraggly. I've been pleased that the height is going to be sufficient to provide the screening I desired. Some camellias max out in growth at 8-10 feet but this one appears to be on its way to getting much larger. It has my permission to get as tall as it wants. There is room in this spot for it to keep growing and, in this case, bigger is better.

Here is a closeup of the bloom (not taken from the kitchen window). Many people prefer the fall-blooming camellias because their blooms are more likely to survive long enough to be enjoyed. Camellia blooms do not like cold weather and a freeze can turn them to mush. The fall-bloomers usually have time to open their buds and put on their show before really cold weather arrives in our area. That's not a guarantee, but it offers an increased chance you'll get to enjoy the bloom. From my own experience I can tell you how sad it is when our usual spring cold snap nips those fat buds of the Japonicas.

Having said that, you'd think I'd never again buy a Japonica camellia--wrong! Gardeners often do things that defy logic. I don't have a white camellia and I really want one. I did some research on the type to buy and where to locate it to give me the best chance of enjoying its spring blooms. So, after thorough research, last week I made the trip to Dabney's Nursery (they have a great selection of camellias) to find Camellia japonica 'Seafoam'. I planted it on a slight slope in a spot that has dappled light from large trees and is sheltered from the wind by a nearby fence. If it does well in this spot, I'll be ecstatic. One of the factors I considered in choosing its location was that I can see it from my favorite reading chair in the living room.

Finally, I want to tell you about a grab-bag camellia purchase I made. I call it grab-bag because it reminded me of when I was a teenager and you could buy a bag of ten records (you do remember records, don't you?) for a dollar, but you didn't know which records you were getting. In this case, the grab-bag was the end-of-season 75% off shrubs clearance sale at Lowes. They had a table of unnamed camellias that were not yet in bloom and tagged simply Camellia sasanqua. The picture on the plant tag showed several colors. The plants had buds but none were opened. All of them appeared to be pink. Since I already had a pink one, I was hoping the bloom would be different but, regardless of the color, it was fun to pay a few dollars for a healthy-looking plant and wait for the surprise. The buds have begun to open and here's what I got. I'm  thrilled! This purchase makes up for all those terrible records I bought as a teenager! I think I'll call it Camellia sasanqua 'Grab Bag'.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Okra Plants and Open Doors

I like to recall waking up under a Clemson Spineless Okra plant about 8 years ago as a Master Gardener intern. An unusually cool August morning, a little mist hung over the garden. And while I had driven the 30 minutes from home to Davies Manor it was the mindless kind of drive at the crack of dawn that does not really wake you up all the way. So I found myself on hands and knees, spreading straw under a 'grove' of okra plants and waking to the beauty of plants and nature and gardening and even life itself.
I also waked to the realization that the handful of tots, whom I had birthed, were almost fully capable adults. Over the last 25 years, I had worked myself out of that happy job; and there in that shady nook of the world the possibilities were without limit. Privileged to have been accepted into the Master Gardener program, I felt the blessing of that morning's work, little knowing the web of opportunity that would follow.
Image result for dixon gallery and gardens lecturesImage result for my big backyardImage result for my big backyard

Attending lectures at the lovely Dixon Gallery and Gardens, and answering the horticulture hotline at the Extension Office, taking 'orders' from seasoned gardeners to prepare a garden for Through Our Garden Gates and teaching children at the Memphis Botanic Garden Harvest Festival about the variety of pumpkins, driving up to Jackson, Tennessee to the Summer Celebration and potting up Ajuga plants for sale at Spring Fling: are just a few of the volunteer and educational opportunities which opened up to me.

The diversity of gardens and gardeners I have met is wider then I could have imagined. Their common threads of helpfulness, encouragement and acceptance have enriched my own garden but most importantly, my life; it is my hope that their goodness has rubbed off even in some small way on me and that I have been of  help to my fellow gardeners. 

Little did I know, all those years ago, tending okra that morning would open the doors to so much opportunity and change my life forever and for the better. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

R&R Five Six, Pick Up Sticks

Five Six Pick Up Sticks
One thing that stands out for me this gardening year has been the  number sticks and branches that have fallen from my trees. Tarp full after tarp full have been picked up, dragged from back yard to front (uphill for me I might add) and placed near the street for pick up. I guesstimate that I have had spent the better part of five days cleaning up after various storms this year, the last being tropical storm Harvey and, like Sisyphus and his rock, just when I get them picked up another storm blows through and there are more sticks, or so it seems. The familiar nursery rhyme alluded to in the title
was first heard around 1780 near Wrentham, Massachusetts. The main purpose of the song is, obviously, to teach children how to count. Originally the song might describe a regular day of lace makers who were traditional workers in the 17th and 18th centuries. One, two buckle my shoe would mean the that workers are getting dressed to go to work; three, four shut the door- the workers have arrived at the lace shop; five, six pick up sticks getting their tools ((wooden sticks were tools used at the lance making machine at this time). Of course, all this is just a guess as the original meaning has been lost over time.

Catalogue Time

Hyacinthiodes hispanica
Fritilleria inperialis

Today, I placed my fall bulb order. I've ordered Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish Bluebells and Fritillaria imperialis, Fritillaria Maxima Lutea a yellow flowering Fritillaria. This will be the first time for me with these bulbs. There are great number of interesting bulbs (besides daffodils) that can added to the landscape this time of year. The Minor Bulbs are a group of bulbs that bloom in January, February and March that can be planted this time of year. Chiondoxa, Ipheion, Crocus, Scilla siberica, and Galanthus are just some of the opportunities to plant now. Another interesting, though little used bulb, Lecojeum also can be planted this time of year. Besides bulbs this is the perfect time to add trees and most shrubs to your landscape. Trees and shrubs planted now don't have the stress of our summertime temperatures and November is usually fairly rainy in the mid-South so nature makes sure the plants get the water they need. There are some shrubs, Gardenias come to mind, that are best planted in the spring, so check with your local nursery person before purchasing. Here's a short poem by Emily Bronte about the wind and it has a little Halloweenish in it; rick or treat.

The Wind was Rough which Tore
The wind was rough which tore
The leaf from its parent tree
The fate was cruel which bore
The withering corpse to me

Emily Bronte
We wander on we have no rest
It is a dreary way

What shadow is it
that ever moves before (my) eyes
It has a brow of ghostly whiteness

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.