Twelve Days of Christmas: #5

By Anita Van HalFive Golden Rings

Golden Conifers Brighten the Winter Landscape

Gold — the color of extravagance – is a rich addition to the garden, and golden conifers are the perfect choice for this season.  Plant them as shining beacons in a winter-gray landscape, and enjoy their clipped boughs in holiday container arrangements.  During the growing season, use them as accents to dark green corners of the backyard or intermix them with complimentary-colored purple grasses and flowers.

Here are five gold ringers:

  • Golden Korean Fir (Abies koreana ‘Aurea’) – This dwarf conifer is best known for its golden foliage and purple cones.
  • Dwarf Golden Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’) – This low-growing Japanese yew features contrasting new, golden foliage against more mature, dark green foliage.
  • Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Aurea’) –This dwarf conifer stands out with its fan-like, golden sprays.
  • Canadian Gold Arborvitae (Thuja plicata ‘Canadian Gold’) – This dense, conical-shaped conifer makes a beautiful hedge with its bright gold foliage.
  • Skylands Oriental Spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’) – This large, upright spruce features small glossy needles that emerge electric yellow and gradually soften to a rich gold.

Twelve Days of Christmas: #4

Four Calling Birds

By Teresa Woodard

Have you ever wondered what bird is making that caw, screech, cuckoo or who-cooks-for-you sound? Well, celebrate the Fourth Day of Christmas by downloading one of the latest birding apps. A Heartland Gardening favorite is Merlin by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Simply answer five questions and the app will come with a list of possible matches. From here, you can further explore thousands of audio files and images. For beginning birders, the lab offers these tips.

  • Watch and listen. When you see a bird singing, the connection between bird and song tends to stick in your mind.

  • Learn from an expert. It’s much harder to learn bird songs from scratch than to have a fellow bird watcher point them out to you. Check for a local Audubon chapter and join a field trip.  The Columbus chapter hosts a “Birding by Ear” workshop on Feb. 26.

  • Listen to recordings. Start by listening to recording of birds you see often. Play them frequently to make the sounds stick.
  • Say it to yourself. Some songs sound like words like the Barred Owl’s “Who cooks for you?” These mnemonics can make a song easier to remember.

  • Details, details, details. Break the song apart into its different qualities, including rhythm, pitch, tone and repetition. For more info, see the Lab or Ornithology.

Join other volunteers in the National Audubon Society’s 115th Christmas Bird Count, Dec. 14 – Jan. 5.

Twelve Days of Christmas: #3

By Anita Van Hal, purchased on Etsy at Just Be YourselfThree French Hens

By Teresa Woodard

While French hens like our Cuckoo Maran – or even American ones like our Black Javas – might make great gifts, I’m not convinced December is the ideal time for such gift giving.  Yes, these beautiful hens can produce wonderful eggs and rid the garden of weeds and pests. But, here in the Midwest, wintertime is my least favorite season for keeping chickens. IMG_4589

With this November’s early snow fall and cold temperatures, we had to scurry to prepare the coop for winter especially since “our girls” were still growing feathers from their fall molt.  We added insulation for warmth and wind-proofing. Plus, we ordered a water heater and had to keep checking the water bucket for the ice until the heater arrived. In addition, we no longer found eggs in their nesting box and learned they take a break from egg-laying until daylight lengthens again to 14 hours or more a day.  Still, “our girls” do provide plenty of entertainment, especially on sunny days when we turn them loose in the garden to graze on cover crops and peck for grubs.

Consider a gift certificate for an order of spring chicks, and your true love will be delighted when they arrive in the mail in April.  To learn more, see our April 12 post,  backyardchickens.com, the chickenchick.com or fresheggsdaily.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Days of Christmas: #2

Two Turtle Doves

By Anita Van Hal

Winter Bird Notes 

By Debra Knapke

The choice of the turtle dove for the second day of Christmas is significant. Turtle doves form very strong pair-bonds which, I believe, is the basis for their association with love. The turtle dove has two broods a season and two eggs in each brood. Its gentle “turr turr” is a double song. For this bird, good things come in pairs!

The male cardinal immediately catches your eye, but this also makes him more visible to predators.  There is a price for beauty.

The male cardinal immediately catches your eye, but this also makes him more visible to predators. There is a price for beauty.

We see the same pattern in many of our native birds, especially cardinals. I’ve watched pairs face off for the suet and seeds we offer in the winter. Pardon a moment’s rant: I have to take issue with those that say the female is drab compared to the male; I think her coloring is more complex and subtly nuanced.Along with the feeders, my garden is populated with plants that support wildlife. The birds love the fruits of spicebush, chokeberries, rose hips, and the seeds from purple coneflower, native grasses and more. All I need is a water source that stays ice-free in the winter; maybe this year.

 

‘Wishing you love in this giving season!downey woodpecker on suet crop

 

 

 

 

Twelve Days of Christmas: #1

 

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

By Anita Van Hal

Landscape Trend Foretold in Song Lyric

By Michael Leach

Partridges have gone the way of powdered wigs, but producing fruit is uber trendy. From potted herbs on windowsills to towering nut trees in the backyard, edible landscaping is in.

Fruit-bearing plants do double duty. They produce some food, while filling some landscape roles of strictly ornamental plants. Think of strawberries for ground covers, espaliered fruit trees for screens and fences, berries for informal hedges and dwarf fruit trees for accent plants. Almost all can adapt to container growing.espaliered pear great dixter 9-1992 resized

Reduce labor — Because picture-perfect produce takes much work, shorten your to-do list by selecting plants that are resistant or immune to common diseases and pests.

Learn more — Visit:  your state’s extension website, Missouri Botanical Garden ; Chicago Botanical Garden ; Purdue University Consumer Horticulture ; Nebraska Statewide Arboretum ; Morton Arboretum .

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.

beston

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.

IMG_6292

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?

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