Rainy Days in the Garden

IMG_0165By Michael Leach

Rain is one of a garden’s greatest allies. But too much of a good thing, becomes tiresome. In my part of the Midwest, we’ve been having a rainy, dreary summer.The result is weeds and mosquitoes going berserk and al fresco activities canceled with scant notice. All too often, we remain inside, looking out through rain drops trickling slowly down window panes. 

Yet raindrops add a unique look to plants. So hoist an umbrella, kick off your shoes and prepare for a fresh perspective when “pennies from heaven” start to fall.

Hostas look fine no matter the weather, and a spangled woodland poppy enlivens the scene. 

Woodland poppy


Roses sparkle after a rain.rose






Waterlilies get into the act, too.



Drought-tolerant succulents assume a different look.



Downpours bent the stems of a couple of over-loaded lilies. No matter. They became an opulent bouquet and brought a whiff of the garden indoors.





What is the last flower of spring?

lemon lilyBy Michael Leach

Poets and gardeners lament the last rose of summer. Even the horticulturally oblivious recognize the wistful symbolism of that flower.

But what of the last flower of spring? Who weeps for it?

Probably no one. But this lack of concern has nothing to do with callousness.

When spring finally becomes summer’s kaleidoscope of color, who cares about a single flower? For that matter, who can define the last flower of spring? Each garden has a unique plant population.

Then there’s the matter of defining the end of spring, a season that pays no attention to the grid of dates on the calendar we use to conveniently, if inaccurately, pinpoint its coming and going. People also “date” spring differently. Memorial Day marks spring’s passing for me, but the start of the school system’s summer vacation or an annual fishing trip marks the end of spring for others.

The last flower of spring could be a rose. Heritage roses, those flowers of legend, romance and centuries of garden use, tend to bloom with late spring flowers.

For me, the last flower of spring is a venerable  lemon lily. Perhaps the lemon-colored blooms or the citrus-like fragrance, that evokes spring in Florida’s orange country, inspired the common name.

This small day lily came from some ancestor’s garden ages past, along with peonies and garden phlox. My childhood memories have it blooming about the time of the late peonies, but memory is apparently faulty. The last peony had faded when the lemon lily began to perfume the air.

While I can’t give proper credit to its family source or common name (much less its botanical moniker), I can thank garden writer Diana Lockwood for keeping this charmer going.


She received hers as a passalong plant from my garden a few years ago. Eventually the mother plant vanished, as sometimes happens to the demure in my rather too effusive planting  style. When she learned of my loss, a start was provided. This spring it produced several flowers.


Lemon lily grows in substantial shade, receiving only four hours or so of direct sun daily. Once my plant grows a bit larger, a division will be placed in a brighter spot.


Meanwhile, another year must pass before the air is perfumed with little lemon lily blooms. Fortunately, an abundance of summer and fall flowers lies ahead making this symbolic end of spring easier to bear than that of summer.


Knapke Garden Tour



By Teresa Woodard

Our fellow blogger Debra Knapke recently invited Michael IMG_6316and me for a tour of her lovely 2/3 acre in northwest Columbus where she’s gardened for 31 years. As a horticulture teacher, author and lecturer, this “Garden Sage” uses her garden in so many ways. She trials new plants, teaches plant ID to horticulture students, experiments with various gardening techniques, explores nature with her grandchildren and finds much peace tending her treasure trove of plants.

Can you tell we loved the garden??? Let us count the ways:

#10 Twenty-five hostas ranging from miniature ‘Popo’ to 3-foot ‘Sagae’

#9 Multiple pots of succulents — haworthia, aloe, agave, gasteria, Senecio rowleyanus (string of pearls), opuntia (variegated prickly pear cactus)

#8 A kaleidoscope of heucheras and heucherellas from a new hybrid ‘Berry Timeless’ to an old-time favorite ‘Frosted Violet’

#7 A bounty of Japanese maples and conifers like firs, larch, weeping blue spruce and false cypress

#6 A gallery of sculpture — even an iron sun that she welded with husband Tony

#5 A bounty of edible treats from alpine strawberries and blueberries to peas, tomatoes and an assortment of greens

#4 Collections of herbs, including sage (for the Garden Sage), lavender (her horticulture thesis plant), 15 thymes, parsley, rosemary and multiple mints

#3 Dozens of natives and wildlife favorites — spring ephemerals, bottlebrush buckeye, cup plant, monarda, pawpaws, little bluestem and more

#2 Lilies for granddaughter Lily

#1 One-of-a-kind treasures

Thanks, Debra, for sharing your wonderful plant collections with us!!!



Summer Nature Reads: One Light, One Medium, One Heavy


By Debra Knapke

After I’ve worked in the garden, I like to brew a cup of tea and sit and read. Depending on my mood, I choose fiction or non-fiction. In the non-fiction world I see books as being light, medium or heavy “reads”.

Big Bad Book of BotanyFor the light read, pick up the The Big, Bad Book of Botany by Michael Largo. This is a selective encyclopedia of plants that define the plant kingdom. While there are some similarities with Amy Stewart’s Wicked Plants – many of the plants have poisonous attributes, there is more about how plants have evolved to carry on the business of surviving in all types of environments. I found myself flipping through the book to my favorite plants, like lavender, and then searching out plants that were new to me. I was amazed to learn that rattan, which I think of as a component of outdoor furniture, has been developed into a bone substitute that is not rejected by the human body.

One little nit-picky point: fungi are included, and technically, they are not plants as they reside in their own kingdom. But, the illustrations are intriguing, and Largo’s writing style is easy to digest.

For a medium read and for inspiration, check out Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Skills and Stories from Generations of Gardeners by Augustus Jenkins Farmer or “Jenks”. The table of contents exemplifies what this book is offering: Deep Rooted WisdomBuilding Fertile Soils: Encouraging a Healthy Web of Life, Stop the Tilling Cycle: Harnessing the Natural Powers of Worms and Mushrooms, Saving Seeds: Treasuring Heirlooms for Genetics and Nutrients and more. I started with the last chapter first: Finding the Spirit: Telling Stories through Your Garden. In my own garden, I am greeted by stories every time I am in it, and I was curious to see Jenks’ interpretation of this essential part of the garden.

Each chapter showcases two teachers who explain their techniques and where they learned them. Jenks then explains how that wisdom is expressed on his organic farm and nursery. I am not done with this book as it takes time for each chapter to settle into my own gardening philosophy. The pictures are gorgeous, and the text is poetry.

And, now for the heavy read: The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs. I am half-way through… whew.

Age of Sustainable DevIf you want to understand the opportunities and threats to sustainable development from a worldwide perspective, this is the book you need to read. For instance, a nation has an advantage if it has coastal areas, access to freshwater, good medical care, benevolent weather and energy resources. A nation will be disadvantaged, if it is landlocked, water stressed, has a heavy disease burden (e.g. malaria), has natural hazards (e.g. earthquakes, typhoons) and has a lack of energy resources. The maps and charts are an excellent addition to the text. Without them, I’m not sure I would be able to navigate this tome.

The first two books are more personal or local in nature, while the last book offers a global view. This falls right in line with the phrase: Think globally, act locally. Isn’t that what all gardeners do?

‘Wishing you beautiful days in nature…

Garden Topics

%d bloggers like this: