Saturday, April 18, 2015
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
But I tried it, smearing the stuff on bamboo stakes around the garden; on gate posts and fences, on rag strips hung from Japanese maples, dogwoods and apple tree. It appears to have worked. We did not have deer in the woods all last summer, except for twice when I forgot to refresh it; when they destroyed the Japanese maple, and when that big buck checked it out.
Even so, my Mama didn’t raise a foolish child. I still don’t trust the Vicks remedy completely. I’ll keep wire cloches around many hostas and a 2x4 wire cage around our evergreen dogwood. I should have caged that Japanese maple!
"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
― Walt Disney Company
Speaking of Gardens by Sandra Parrill The Joplin Globe, April 19, 2014
Friday, April 18, 2014
Most perennials and wildflowers seem to have thrived through the winter, possibly because we had a good snow cover that protected them when temps dropped to below zero; giving them plenty of slow soaking moisture as it melted. A few have heaved themselves partly out of the ground, and need to be replanted or their exposed roots covered with soil. Patches of native hepaticas, trilliums, Dutchman’s breeches and other woods denizens are thicker than ever. Hostas are vigorously thrusting through a thick layer of leaves we haven’t yet touched, except to pick off the dead leaf “caps” that they pushed up as they emerged.
A friend tells us this was the coldest winter on record in 12 years. It certainly seems the longest; it came early, partied hard and stayed late, wearing out its welcome a month or so ago. We should have learned the lesson it taught about zone pushing, but gardeners never do, at least for long. We’ll soon forget and be back at our old adventurous gambling ways, trying out new plants regardless of hardiness ratings. As plantsman Tony Avent was quoted saying, “I consider every plant hardy until I have killed it myself, at least three times.” We always have great expectations for a wonderful Spring.
- Popular saying
Speaking of Gardens: by Sandy Parrill The Joplin Globe, April 12, 2014
Thursday, April 10, 2014
To keep them from smothering and killing their neighbors, tomato cages cut in half or foot-high rings of fence wire are put around the bigger clumps for support until the leaves ripen. I like to do that when they first come up, before they get big and unwieldy. This year bad weather prevented me from getting out there early so not a one is propped up yet. It will have to be done soon, before the leaves start to stretch.
“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle …
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dream” -Barbara Winkler
The Joplin Globe "Speaking of Gardens" column by Sandy Parrill, April 5, 2014
Monday, March 31, 2014
Luna moth, just hatched. Its tails are not yet completely dry and extended.
The number of plants needed to sustain a butterfly and moth population is astounding. We all know that monarchs need the asclepias family, including milkweed, but many other butterflies also have specific requirements for life. Great spangled fritillaries visit milkweed for nectar too, but the caterpillars, which overwinter and become active in spring, must have violet leaves to eat; if there are none available, they will starve and die. (Not a problem here with native violets everywhere.) Beautiful luna moth caterpillars subsist on tulip tree (lirodendron) leaves. The carrot family is host for giant swallowtail caterpillars. We’ve learned to live with holes in leaves; helping sustain pollinators and beautiful insects is one of the best parts of being a gardener.
Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars
Oak moth caterpillar, camouflaged against the bark of an oak tree.
I know; all caterpillars are not welcome in a garden. A single giant hornworm can nearly consume a tomato plant in one night, causing gardeners to curse loudly and crush it immediately. But not all hornworms eat tomatoes. There are some 70 species, many of which are plant specific, so randomly killing any you see would deprive us of many hawk and hummingbird moths that are so entertaining in the evenings. Introduced species like gypsy moths, bagworms, tent caterpillars, cabbage butterflies and cutworms wreak havoc in gardens, needing to be dealt with if we are to have vegetables to eat. We don’t use insecticides, instead relying on timing, floating row covers, plant collars, and natural predators. One alternative is bacillus thuringiensis, or BT, a natural biological control that is effectively used on larva of many kinds in certain situations. But it does destroy caterpillars, so apply with caution and only if necessary. BT can be found at any garden center. A must read for further information: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05556.html
For nectar, butterflies need cluster type flowers with flat surfaces for landing pads, such as sedums, milkweeds, salvias, verbenas, zinnias, clover, lilacs, et al. They also like a good mud puddle for salt that is necessary in mating, especially if it has rotten bananas, molasses, or sponges soaked in fruit juices and stale beer in it. A wide saucer or birdbath makes a good feeder. They are also attracted to carrion, dung piles, and sweaty people. If you are blessed by butterflies landing on you, they are probably licking up your salt.
Cecropia moth, one of our largesty silkmoths, seems to be declining because of parasitism by a tachinid fly that was introduced to control the gypsy moth, an invasive species from Europe that is devastating North American forests. Another example of many well-intentioned attempts to correct a problem has gone awry. Now, how far must we go to control the tachinid fly? And then, what?
Besides my caterpillar book, my other favorite reference is a small, information-packed Pocket Nature Guide published by Johnson Books; “Painted Ladies of North America”.
With dwindling habitat worldwide and assaults on these insects with ever-growing use of chemicals, and intoduced predators, even the tiniest pollinator garden helps. I’m planting lots more agastache, salvias, herbs and lavender this year.
"May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun
And find your shoulder to light on,
To bring you luck, happiness and riches
Today, tomorrow and beyond."
Joplin Globe column March 29, Speaking of Gardens by Sandy Parrill with extra pictures and text
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
This is a garden of constant change, both according to the whims of Nature, and of my nature. It is definitely informal, wildflowers and annuals springing where they may, many being allowed to reseed freely; only removed or thinned when they become so thick as to rudely crowd their neighbors out or get crushed underfoot.
Shade moves across this almost-acre, leaving us with very few sunny spots and mostly dappled, shifting light under which my beloved wildflowers thrive and multiply, some in beds which circle the stone cottage which shelters us. Some, such as ginger and violets, line the paths, wandering down into the woods where colonies are established under the trees.
Others simply grow where they want to, and sometimes not in the same places every year. It is always a surprise when a whole group of black-eyed Susans, veronicastrum, columbines or Queen Anne’s lace takes a notion to move 50 feet away to the other side of the house from one year to the next.
A brick patio, rock garden and pond now occupy the space where the original one-room house once stood. An herb garden replaced a thicket of mock orange some twenty years ago. Most of those herbs are gone now, but the beds and paths remain, with perennials filling out beds where once grew thyme, sage and lavender. The remaining herbs have been moved to a small fenced garden where vegetables once grew. I gave up on the dream of fresh vegetables from our own garden when I got tired of feeding deer, groundhogs and raccoons. The herbs are not to their taste and they leave those largely alone.
These days we buy most of our veggies at the farmer’s markets and let those growers deal with critter problems. But even that may change this year as we experiment with straw bale gardening in a corner of the herb garden. It got off to a slow start due to the wintry weather but it’s almost ready to plant with radishes and cole crops now.
Our street-side garden will see new developments this spring. For nearly a year, water company contractors have been laying a new line along our street, and in the process they have made a hash out of part of the very old iris bed in front of our house. In spite of their promises to “make it look better than it did before” I’m not holding my breath. They claim to be done now, but no one has shown up to fix anything. My patience wore thin so finally I took matters into my own hands; using some big rocks from the property line rock pile, plus rocks and gravel the contractors left lying about, to edge the length of the iris bed and make a rock garden.
Amazingly, patches of crocuses and daffodils have survived, blooming as if they had never been disturbed in spite of being buried in a foot of gravel and then scraped over with a backhoe scoop.
New color variations of creeping phlox are available now in addition to the old pinks and blues, including a pink and white one called “Candy Stripe”. Creeping phlox is perennial, easy to grow, long lived, spreads rapidly, and needs little care except for a bit of light trimming once it has finished blooming, or not. I always forget and it still looks fine. It’s an attractive, hardy ground cover year-round, resembling a needle evergreen. Barely 4” tall, it effectively smothers out encroaching weeds and is fairly drought-resistant. Blooming (normally) in late March and early April, it invites swarms of early pollinators, bees and butterflies galore to sip of its nectar-rich flowers.
Creeping phlox loves full sun and good drainage which makes it excellent for growing over retaining walls and down steep slopes as groundcover where it’s difficult to mow. This is the perfect time of year to plant it, in pockets of good compost-rich soil about a foot apart. Be careful not to bury the stem when planting and keep it well-watered until established. Long spreading stems of old plants may get thick and woody and stop blooming well. These can be cut back to encourage new growth that will produce flowers again.
As we experience more and more effects of climate change, and the weather is seldom “as usual” any more, we need more like these plants that are “bulletproof”, whether they are natives or not. I look forward to many more changes coming to the Chaotic garden.
"One of the worst mistakes you can make as a gardener is to think you're in charge."
"If there's one thing I can say about my garden, it can always surprise me."
----David Hobson, The Mad Gardener
Sandy Parrill, "Speaking of Gardens" column, The Joplin Globe, March 23, 2014
Monday, March 17, 2014
A male cardinal in the lilacs keeps announcing how “pretty, pretty, pretty” he is, while close by, his busy mate is paying little attention to his posturing. Just a single pair or two claiming territory here is all that remains of a huge flock of cardinals that crowded our feeders through the snowstorms. The long cold fingers of winter are gradually being pried loose by a gentle but persistent sun, and the soft, moist air smells like new life.
Our pond is about 8’x 15’ and some three feet deep in one end, which is deep enough for koi should we choose to keep them. There were beautiful butterfly koi and fancy goldfish a few years ago, until a marauding raccoon cleaned them out. We haven’t replaced them since, just stocking the pond with feeder goldfish from the pet store in recent years. They grow fast and live a long time, if the raccoons don’t come back for lunch; but if they do, at least we won’t have provided them with an expensive gourmet feast.
The pump was turned off last fall as there is a leak somewhere that kept draining the pond at the rate of 6” or so a week. We couldn’t find it in the pond liner, so the waterfall will have to be dismantled to see if that is where the problem is. Possibly roots from our Crimson Queen Japanese maple growing are through the liner somewhere.
While the waterfall is torn apart might be a good time to put in a better filter, if we ever decide to try koi again as they need more oxygen in the water than do goldfish. A long-handled leaf grabber made for picking up leaves behind shrubs and flower beds also makes short work of leaves and pond debris, except for what settles to the bottom, but we don’t worry too much about that. A little mud on the pond bottom doesn’t hurt anything, while providing habitat for water insects and little organisms that fish and tadpoles feed on. About every 5 years we drain it and clean it out when it builds up too much.
When fresh water is added to top off the cleaned pond, we use a dechlorinator which neutralizes the chlorine, chloramines, and heavy metals present in city water that will kill fish if not treated. A preventive dose of fish medicine as well helps promote fish health.
Look who I found in the woods pond! This little leopard frog was cold and sleepy and not moving much but alive and well!
I can’t wait to open my windows and listen to the spring peepers in the clean pond as they sing me to sleep at night. Then I will know spring is truly here.
"The music of all creatures has to do with their loves, even toads and frogs."--Henry David Thoreau
Monday, March 10, 2014
Early-blooming native serviceberries have been planted under tall hickories along the south edge of the woods. The fruit is tasty in pies and jam, but I doubt we will get any of the fruits to eat as robins love them better. They are all sprouts from a serviceberry that I once planted closer to the house, not taking into account its suckering ways. Now, those suckers must be dug out each spring to keep them from crowding out a hydrangea that is its bed-mate, and making a serviceberry grove out of the whole area. If I was a harsher mistress of the garden I would pull it out, but I love its delicate white flowers and watching robins plunder the berries in summer.
Published in the Joplin Globe, "Speaking of Gardens" by Sandy Parrill March 9, 2014