Incomplete Garden To-Do List?

20141119_161059Don’t Fret!  Think about what you accomplished.

By Michael Leach

Even as the last leaves cling stubbornly to the trees, snowflakes twirl to the ground. Ah the mixture of seasonal icons that is November, one day autumn, the next winter, sometimes both in the same 24 hours.

Indoors the winter “look” is back, as the houseplants, gathered from their summering grounds on porch and in the garden, recover from their sulk of yellow leaves. As they find a new equilibrium, so shall I. Soon their green leaves and occasional blooms will be pleasant reminders that the gray world beyond the windows will awaken — eventually — from dormancy.

For now, however, the fatigue of a long, challenging growing season makes me more weary than usual at this time of year. A summer of seemingly endless weeding, mowing and trimming back has me thinking nothing new and fresh happened. But a few moments of recollection show this is wrong in several ways. I’m actually ahead on a few projects and you probably are too.

For instance, in the last, desperate acts of cleanup and shut down before the snow, I managed to scrub the pair of recycled-plastic Adirondack chairs to a reasonable whiteness. Instead of dragging out dingy, grayish furniture next spring, they’ll look almost new. Never done that before.

Then there’s the waterlily. Growing in small pool, this plant is perhaps a half century old. Hmm, when was it last repotted?  Reagan may have been president. An undemanding plant to say the least.

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Its ability to remain so long in the same quarters was due to the gradual transformation of the pool area into a deep shade alcove. A mere sprig of bamboo turned into walls and partial ceiling of dense privacy. (Bamboo was a less than perfect solution to screening the unsightly mess of dented cars and attendant debris at the auto body shop that went in next door. Over the years, the business cleaned up its act considerably, while the bamboo continued to grow ever more thuggish.) By the time I hired a crew in the spring of 2013 to cut down a swath bordering the pool, barely enough light penetrated to produce a handful of pitifully small lily “pads” each summer.

Suddenly sunlight poured in much of the day and the grateful lily bloomed repeatedly last summer and again this year. Not surprisingly, the plant outgrew its venerable clay pot. Instead of waiting until frenetic spring 2015, repotting was one of several chores tackled on a busy September afternoon. Viola! I was done with that.

Another revival. Among the bamboo stumps a semi-sunny border is developing. A flat of wee perennials, a few transplanted hostas and three baby variegated red twig dogwoods were IMG_7994wedged in amongst  old bamboo roots, the rebar of the plant world. The newbies are all mulched for winter. I’m done with that.

I’m also done with the fall planting, which included a paltry 200 or so spring bulbs, a flat of pansies that should survive winter for early color and a half dozen or so small shrubs.

There’s more to do this fall, weather permitting, as always. But why fret and stew about an incomplete to-do list  when there’s so much to take pleasure in having accomplished?  I’m done with that. And I hope you are, too.

IMG_3435Share your “done with its”. What accomplishments are you taking pride in? Please tell us.




Book Notes: Three Old Favorites

IMG_0863 resizeBy Debra Knapke

November is a time when I revisit books that are old, and sometimes forgotten, friends. We’ve all heard the dire pronouncements: books are becoming obsolete, the web is killing the publishing industry and more. Yet, in this time of early evenings, colder temperatures and even snow, it is a cup of tea and a good book that are my preferred companions at the end of the day.

Adelma Caprilands[1]

Adelma Grenier Simmons

All three of these writers are also my teachers.  Each has given me pieces of wisdom that have become part of my personal and professional ethics. Each has settled into my garden heart.

How do we choose books? Often it is a catchy title that entices. Herb Gardening in Five Seasons by Adelma Grenier Simmons had me at the title. So what is the fifth season? A season that has a feeling all its own: Christmas. Adelma Simmons wrote this book in 1964 when herbs were beloved by gardeners, but they weren’t the mainstay of gardens as they are now. She brought herbs to the attention to many through her books and her extensive gardens, Caprilands, in Coventry, Connecticut. She influenced my herbal education greatly. Adelma died in 1997 at the age of 93, seven years after I read one of the many reprints of her book.

Rosetta_Shear_Clarkson crop

Rosetta Shear Clarkson

Still on my herbal journey, a year and a half later I found another classic, Herbs: Their Culture and Uses. Rosetta Clarkson penned three books. Magic Gardens (1939) and Green Enchantment (1940) preceded Herbs: Their Culture and Uses (1942). Her style of writing is very personal in all three books. While reading her instructions and advice I felt as if she was talking to me. Rosetta gardened just outside of New York City and along the coast of Connecticut. My favorite of her three books was Green Enchantment, but it has disappeared from my bookshelves; probably lent out and never returned.


Henry Beston

In between these two authors I found and fell in love with another author whose poetic prose took me to the places he described. Another east coast writer, Henry Beston wrote Herbs and the Earth (1935) while on his farm in Nobelboro, Maine. He penned one of my favorite quotes –

“A garden is the mirror of the mind. It is a place of life, a mystery of green moving to the pulse of the year, and pressing on and pausing the while to its own inherent rhythms.”

And, I would like to offer you a quote from Adelma as you contemplate (dread?) the approach of winter:

“The quiet aloneness of winter has a special charm for the herb gardener, and I confess this season is my delight. Through the restless, rushing hours of spring, and the long days of summer that begin at dawn and end with weeding in the twilight, I find myself looking back at the peace of winter and forward to the next one. The winter landscape, bare and stringent, reveals a beauty of form and line that is not visible in the spring and summer.”




Favorite Flora: Chrysanthemums

An ancient flower wows modern gardeners

See what modern mums have to offer

20141025_115436 “If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” (A Chinese philosopher)

By Teresa Woodard

This Chinese philosopher certainly would smile if he saw how widespread these “mums” have become as the darling of today’s fall floral displays. In fact, I recently was one of thousands visiting the popular Chrysanthemum Festival at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. Inside Longwood’s four-acre conservatory, more than 80,000 chrysanthemum blooms are nurtured and trained into inspiring forms, including shields, spirals, cascades, balls, and even a 10-foot tall yellow chandelier. IMG_1442The crown jewel of the display was the Thousand Bloom Mum—featuring more than 1,500 perfectly arranged flowers—the largest of its kind grown outside of Asia.

Gaining more respect for this mass-marketed fall favorite, I recently visited the National Chrysanthemum Society’s website to learn more about this plant’s rich history. Check out these fun facts:

  • First Mum — The chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb and is described in writings as early as the 15th Century B.C.IMG_3981
  • Imperial Blossom — Around the 8th century A.D., the chrysanthemum appeared in Japan. So taken were the Japanese with this flower that they adopted a single flowered chrysanthemum as the crest and official seal of the Emperor. Japan also celebrate a National Chrysanthemum Day, called the Festival of Happiness.IMG_3987
  • Winning the West — The chrysanthemum was first introduced into the Western world during the 17th Century. In 1753 Karl Linnaeus, founder of modern taxonomy, combined the Greek words chrysos, meaning gold with anthemon, meaning flower. They belong to the Compositae, or daisy family.
  • New Colors, Forms — In more recent times, growers within several countries began to propagate chrysanthemums. Hybridizers in England, France, Japan, and the United States have developed a wide range of floral colors, shapes, and sizes. Today’s colors include pink, purple, red, yellow, bronze, orange, white and bi-color variations.IMG_3982
  • Keeping Track — To help with identification, the National Chrysanthemum Society developed a classification system with 13 classes ranging from the large “football” mums to spider-shaped blooms to the classic potted mums. Some of these chrysanthemum cultivars can be trained into different forms as showcased at annual displays at Longwood Gardens, New York Botanical Garden and Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile, Al.

Snapshots: Poultry Rule at Ohio Nationals

By Teresa Woodard

No where is the growing trend of poultry keeping more evident than this weekend’s Ohio Poultry National at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus.  Here, hundreds of chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineas and partridge arrive from across the country to compete for best of show.  You’ll find heritage varieties, fancy ones with crested plumes and feathered feet, large turkeys and small bantam ducks, and even pink silkie chickens.  Below are a few favorite snapshots from the event which wraps up today.

Narragansett turkeys are known for being one of the largest of the heritage turkeys.

Narragansett turkeys are known for being one of the largest of the heritage turkeys.

Brahmas are known as the "Kings of Poultry" for their size and strength.

Brahmas are known as the “Kings of Poultry” for their size and strength.

The frizzle-feathered chickens are the divas of the poultry world with their curled feathers.

The frizzle-feathered chickens are the divas of the poultry world with their curled feathers.


The crested chickens are the beloved subject of old Dutch and Flemish paintings.

The crested chickens are the beloved subject of old Dutch and Flemish paintings.


These pink chickens were a hit with kids in the trading area.

Eco-Friendly Leaves

fall leavesWays to make autumn leaves more eco-friendly

By Michael Leach

Cackle, crunch, crackle, crunch go the footfalls of autumn walks through dry leaves that smell pleasantly of faded summer days.

Savvy gardeners, who know that leaves are easily recycled into a free mulch and soil amendment, aren’t likely to bag their leaves and put them at the curb, much less rake them into the gutter to await collection.

However, those who shun nature’s gift and relegate leaves to the gutter are creating environmental issues.

Gutters filled with leaves “… impede the flow of rainwater to the nearest storm drain, creating puddles where mosquitoes can breed,” says the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District in Columbus in a recent newsletter. (Despite the autumn chill, I guess we shouldn’t underestimate the power of mosquitoes to reproduce.)

“When the leaves are blown by wind or carried by rainwater to the storm drain,” the report adds, “they clog at the catch basin and form an impenetrable mat on the grate. This causes street flooding and the extra expense of calling out municipal or township employees to clean it.

“When leaves travel through the storm water system to the nearest stream, they contribute to oxygen depletion as they decompose.”

The district suggests keeping leaf piles out of the street  to await vacuuming. If your community offers curbside yard waste recycling, put leaves in cans marked “yard waste” or in  paper leaf bags.

“Yard waste” is such a misnomer for this valuable resource. Despite having to deal with leaves from a dozen or so large shade trees, including several mature sugar maples, I don’t consider leaves waste.

Besides putting them to work in the landscape, this year I’m putting some into plastic trash bags to insulate carrots and turnips. I’m hoping to keep the soil cold but not frozen, making harvest in dead of winter a possibility.  Stay tuned for further developments on this front.

BTW, what’s your favorite uses for leaves?

Gardens to Drive: Scary Plants

IMG_3804Boo! Scary Plants for Your Garden

By Teresa Woodard

I love a good scare – a scary movie, a haunted house and even an occasional hide-behind-the-door prank.  IMG_3789So, I was captivated by the Franklin Park Conservatory’s timely “Scary Plants” exhibit which turned out to be a virtual fun house of horticultural horrors!

Two flesh-eating favorites starred in the carnivorous plants display.  The American pitcher plant (Sarracenia) lures prey inside its trumpet-shaped leaves with an intoxicating nectar.

IMG_3805The Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula) tricks insects with its open trap that snaps shut when insects unknowingly touch trigger hairs that signal the trap.

Equally scary, another group of vicious plants are famed for their spikes and hidden poisons.  Don’t be fooled by Daturas’ beautiful blooms – the plants contain highly poisonous tropane alkaloids that can cause hallucinations and even death.  Castor bean plants (Ricinus communis) may be fun to grow for their colorful foliage and interesting seed pods, but the plant contains ricin, a deadly toxin. Even the beloved Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) produces nuts that contain poisonous tannic acid.

On the prickly side, be sure to sidestep any honey locust trees and their wicked thorns.  A neighbor boy was hiking in a nearby preserve with our kids and stumbled upon a thorn which punctured his knee. Ouch!  Prickly pear (Opuntia polycantha ‘Bronze’) and porcupine tomato (Solanum pyracanthum) are two other don’t-touch plants.

A final group of plants are more bizarre than scary.  Check out gray-haired ‘Old Man’ cactus (Cephalocereus senilis) and pumpkin-on-a-stick (Solanum aethiopicum) which is a relative to tomatoes and eggplants. IMG_3826 IMG_3823

If I haven’t scared you away, visit Franklin Park Conservatory to learn more about these botanical wonders.  The ‘Scary Plants’ exhibit runs through Nov. 9.  Other ghoulish garden events include the Haunted Conservatory (Oct. 30) at Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis, the Creepy Crawl (Oct. 31)at Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, and the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular (through Nov. 9) at Iroquois Park in Louisville.


Favorite Flora: Species Tulips

Wild for Species Tulips

By Teresa Woodard

Imagine an alpine meadow of dainty tulips in Kazakhstan or stout red tulips thriving on the rocky slopes of the Elburz Mountains in Iran.  After seeing this collection of images from Tulips in the Wild, I decided to give these tough little beauties a try.

Last fall, I planted clusters of 8 to 10 Tulipa linifolia and Tulipa clusiana ‘Tubergen’s Gem’  along edges of our meadow.  In April, they made a charming show with natural, wildflower-like blooms – much more fitting for the meadow setting than their larger, more showy hybridized cousins.

If you want to try planting some of these ‘wild’ or species tulip bulbs this fall, here are a few suggestions.  Plan to order a larger quantity than expected, since the bulbs are smaller and look more impressive when planted in mass.  Also, consider a location where these diminutive spring flowers will get noticed like a walkway, a mailbox garden or a border’s edge. The bulbs will grow best in a sunny location with good drainage, ideally a sloped area that is not irrigated. While deer are known to eat tulips just as they open, I was fortunate they didn’t find these blooms. However, be prepared to protect them with barrier plants or a deer repellent.IMG_6162

For bulb sources, check out Colorblends – 888-847-8637; Brett and Becky’s Bulbs – 877-661-2852; Van Engelen – 860-567-8734; and Bluestone Perennials – 800-852-5243.

Catch Us If You Can

conference logoDebra Knapke will be talking about “Biophilia: Understanding Why We Garden ” as the morning keynote speaker at this weekend’s Ohio Master Gardener State Conference at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

Why do we garden? Ask doctors, and they’ll point to the health benefits. Ask some authors, and they’ll pull out their books on gardening’s spiritual, meditative and stress-relieving benefits. Flip through gardening magazines, and these beautiful outdoor spaces are undeniably a powerful source of creativity and entertainment. Debra was intrigued by the question and has been investigating this biophilia or “affinity with nature and love of living things” as first defined by E.O. Wilson in 1984. She’ll share her findings and how they relate to our work as gardening educators.

Teresa will be working behind the scenes at the event as a member of the conference planning committee.

Live It Or Record It?

20140929_093209By Michael Leach

I want to knock the cell phone out of her hand and shout, “Look around you!”

Instead, I roll my eyes and grind my teeth. The woman, who’s touring an elegant private garden as part of the recent Garden Writers Association’s Pittsburgh symposium, hunches over a cellphone. She’s oblivious to the tranquil water lotus pool and gnarly trunks of the ancient espaliered apple trees.

Why would anyone, but presumably someone who writes about gardens and cultivates one, spend precious time texting, or sending Facebook updates in a place she may never see again? (To be fair, she may be taking notes or a few photos for future use.)

But she’s probably ODD, suffering from what I term obsessive digital disorder, just like millions of others. I define this as the need to constantly manipulate images on a digital screen, whether games, social media, texts, TVs, cell phones, pads, laptops, smart watches and other devices. ODD people are addicted to the constant diversion that digital “hits” offer.

These devices are incredibly helpful and fun, but how does one avoid addiction to endless diversion? I ponder this danger, while planning an upgrade to a smart phone and all that entails.

Before ranting further, a disclaimer is in order. My view is clouded by decades of writing and editing on a computer. I’m conditioned to being paid for screen time. Forgive me if I prefer face time to Face Book and shy from games to pass idle hours. I played one too many high-stakes game of producing a newspaper despite techno-glitches to find pleasure in antics of the Mario Brothers or killing-spree combat games.

Add to this a gift for causing electronics to manifest peculiar behavior that inevitably prompts the tech-savvy person to exclaim, “I’ve never seen it do that before!” Third, I’m slow to pick up on new stuff, even when it functions perfectly. (Lazy may be a better explanation.)

Now back to digital diversion — New Age nicotine. More addictive than smoking but uber socially acceptable, digital diversion is a must for everyone, starting with the youngest children. Advice I hear for learning new electronic tricks is, “Get a kid to show you how.” Smoking was the other way around.

So how much New Age nicotine is safe for consumption? Who knows? Before having a home computer, my only email came to the office downtown. Did I drive almost 20 miles round trip on Saturday afternoon to check email? Never. But when it comes to a phone that you must also use for nonbusiness calls, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of diversion at your fingertips.

I need space between work and life. That’s hard to find these days.

As I recall the phone addict in the garden, I wonder if she attended a symposium program that cited scientific studies quantifying the positive effects of gardening, plants and nature upon blood pressure, productivity, sense of well being and recovery from surgery. Maybe she skipped that session or more likely — she Tweeted through it.

Let us know:  In this smartphone age, do you live it or record it?


Catch Us If You Can

Bloggers Debra Knapke and Michael Leach are TV stars, this month.  On Fox 28′s Good Day Columbus, Debra Knapke highlighted edibles at the Heritage Gardens at the Ohio Governor’s Residence.  On another day, Michael appeared on the show to share tips on how to get a jump-start on spring gardening.  Check out his tips on planting spring bulbs, transplanting houseplants, and growing pansies and fall asters.

In the newly released fall issue of Edible Columbus, Debra writes about “Ohio Squash”  and shares tips for cool-season veggies in “What to Plant & Harvest”.  Teresa Woodard also contributes a feature, “Pumpkin Envy”, on Roger Kline who grows award-winning edible heirloom pumpkins.




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