Are Gardeners Allowed to Take a Break?


Discover how you can build Adirondack chairs like these by visiting This Old House

By Michael Leach

Putting the white Adirondack chairs on the cozy, brick-paved patio symbolizes spring for me, almost as much as sunny daffodils and fluttering kites in blue skies.

 While a thorough cleaning remains to be done, these chairs already do nicely for breaks from the lengthy, early spring chore list. In recent years I’ve found that getting out of those chairs becomes harder and harder. Age isn’t the only factor.

 I suppose Auntie Mame, the zany subject of a novel, movie and Broadway plays sums it up best, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” For us green thumbs, substitute “The garden” for “life”. The suckers spend all their time nurturing their gardens rather than allowing the garden to nurture them.

 Unlike some gardeners, who claim they can’t sit in their backyard Edens because they always see something to do, I learned to turn a blind eye. Only the area around the patio is regularly groomed. This allows me to use the space (weather permitting) whenever company comes, a break is needed, or I want to enhance morning coffee or something cool to sip in the evening. Patio time brings peace and pleasure, not a guilt trip.

 This is why it’s important to consider garden furnishings as much more than decorative focal points or accents. Besides the patio, the maple-shaded picnic table and an aluminum reproduction of a cast iron Victorian bench beside the sycamore tree are frequently used in clement weather.

 Granted, we gardeners are blessed. What many consider drudgery, we delight in. Letting go of weeds, watering cans, trowels, pruning shears and shovels isn’t easy because we derive intense pleasure from working among plants, tending the soil and keeping things tidy.

 Too often, however, we obsess over details no one sees — unless we stupidly point them out. Those gorilla in the picture studies show it would take a thistle the size of King Kong before most guests will notice anything amiss in the perennial borders or vegetable beds. If yours is a reputation of plant nerd, they might compliment you on this towering horticultural achievement.

 Dormancy is natural, going all the time isn’t. Not that I’m giving you permission to plop down for the rest of the season. Not hardly. A friend, who died last fall at 102 and gardened until well into her 90s, always advised, “Never let the rocking chair get you.”

 She also recognized that rest is not a dirty, four-letter word.

Snapshots: Snowy Spring


The forsythia is in bloom – here is the first of three snows!


Actually, the snow is a protective cover on this cold morning.  Tonight, the temperature is supposed to go down into the high 20’s. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I will be covering my few cold hardy annuals, but the new leaves on the trees will have to fend for themselves.

Trendspotting: Backyard Chickens

Do you need some garden help?

chicken trioBy Teresa Woodard


Black Java

Black Java

Meet our newest gardening crew – two black Java and two cuckoo Maran chickens.  Yes, these hens are tilling, weeding and even fertilizing the soil as we prep our vegetable garden area.  Plus, they’re laying beautiful brown eggs and bringing us lots of laughs.


According to Mark Glover of, hatcheries’ sales are up and the small-order sales are growing the most.  Besides their gardening benefits, chickens are attracting more attention as people want to live sustainably, know their food source and protect some of the rare heritage poultry breeds.

Cuckoo Maran

Cuckoo Maran


When my 14-year-old son Mark and I started talking about keeping chickens, we visited a friend’s farm and learned about their care. While we fell in love with their mixed flock and their beautiful eggs, we postponed our own chicken raising.  Two years later, we decided to move ahead with some hens (my son couldn’t wait for chicks to grow up to lay eggs) and returned to the farm to purchase a couple of their dual-purpose (egg and meat) heritage breeds.

Now that we’ve had “the girls” for a few weeks, we delight in gathering their eggs in the morning and turning them loose in the garden for an hour after dinner to watch their antics as they dig for grubs and follow Mark around the garden as he shovels up worms for them to devour.


If you’re interested in learning more, we encourage you to visit a poultry show, take a backyard chickens class and check out the links below.

Garden Happenings: Plant Sales

By Teresa Woodard

The plant-buying frenzy is about to begin, and there’s no better place for one-of-a-kind plants and great gardening advice than a public garden’s plant sale.  Besides, the sales generate significant income for botanic gardens, arboreta and plant societies.

There’s a month-long series of sales throughout the Midwest.  Many feature auctions, pre-sale party nights, workshops and book signings.  To get first dibs on plants, check out the pre-sale events typically offered to members. No doubt, the membership privilege is well worth the $25-$50 annual dues.

Also, come with questions.  Many of the volunteers have first-hand experience growing the plants for sale.  So, don’t be afraid to ask for their favorite tomato plant, native shade tree or miniature varieties.  The only danger is you may end up with a trunk full of wonderful plants.

Aullwood CGWhile there are many places to shop, this year, we’re highlighting the Native Plant Sale at Aullwood Audobon Center in Dayton, Ohio. I loved revisiting the late conservationist Marie Aull’s woodland gardens, while doing a story for the recent issue of Country Gardens magazine.

At Aullwood’s natives sale, you’ll find 100 different species — from woodland wildflowers like celandine poppies to prairie favorites like compass plant and milkweeds to wetland stars like cardinal flower.  They’ll also have ornamental grasses like little bluestem and native trees and shrubs such as flowering dogwood, sumac and spicebush. To save time, submit a pre-order form by April 7, and orders will be ready for pick up on April 11 or 12. If you pick up on April 11, you also have shopping privileges at the plant rescue sale featuring trilliums, bloodroots, Virginia bluebells and more. After shopping, be sure to see the spring ephemerals starting to bloom at Aullwood Gardens.

Other places to shop include:


Posted in Happenings


Favorite Flora: Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense): Edible… or not?

Asarum canandense resizeBy Debra Knapke

The question: “Is it true that you can use it like ginger?” The answer: “well, yes and no”. This shade-loving, native perennial has a history of culinary use as a ginger substitute. The roots have been powdered and candied, but the chemistry of wild ginger is different from the true ginger (Zingiber sp.) of South Asia. Wild ginger’s flavor has been described as potent, but Dr. Art Tucker, professor emeritus of Botany at Delaware State, cautions that only the essential oil, in small amounts, has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status. This makes me reconsider my desire to taste-test the root.

The ethnobotanical record and current use for wild ginger reads like a manual in how to cure just about anything. The most common uses have included: improving digestion and appetite; curing coughs, colds, bronchitis, and sore throats, supporting the immune system and healing wounds. But, before you go experimenting, consider that most recommendations were accompanied by this caution: contains aristolochic acid which has been found to be carcinogenic and mutagenic – causing cancer and mutations, respectively.asarum canadense flower crop 2

In the garden, wild ginger is a beautiful ground cover that increases its diameter slowly; 24-30” wide in two to four years. The curious maroon flowers are under the leaves, close to the soil where they are pollinated by beetles and flies. Look for the flowers in mid-April or so. This may necessitate getting on your knees and bowing to your garden.

Wild ginger is native in 25 states in moist woodlands. In the garden this translates to well-amended soil in shade to part shade. Ginger mapIt is tolerant of a wide range of pH, and can withstand short periods of dryness once it is established. However, wild ginger is not tolerant of flooding. Slugs and snails can be an issue, especially in wet seasons, but I have found the damage to be minimal, certainly not worth any control measures.

We all need to be aware of supporting our native insects. Wild ginger offers food to the larval stage of the gorgeous pipevine swallowtail butterfly. The caterpillar eats the leaves and thereby ingests aristolochic acid which makes it poisonous to birds. For this same reason, it is not favored by deer.

Pipevine Swallowtail Jim McCormac

Mating pipevine swallowtails that are safe from hungry birds because of their diet of wild ginger leaves and milkweed nectar. Photo credit: Jim McCormick

Multi-functional, beautiful and low-care; what more can you ask from a plant?

To learn more about wild ginger and  other rare plants, check out FloraQuest and consider signing up for the next field trip to Marblehead, Ohio, May 12-13.

Garden Topics

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