Had enough Midwest winter with its brown, black, gray and glum? Beginning to think your garden is dead, not merely dormant? Are glittering icicles over head a bit too disconcerting and sparkling snow drifts too annoying?
Then head for the tropics if schedule and budget allow — or a reasonable facsimile should you, like me, be lacking in the time and money departments. Instead of Florida or someplace even closer to the Equator, I took a short drive to a warm, lush place — Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.
It was a double treat. Not only were the waterfalls cascading and giant palm fronds overhanging the paths as usual, but the annual orchid show had recently opened. There are scores of exotic blossoms throughout this gift from foresighted civic leaders, which has been expanded and lovingly tended since its debut in 1895.
Other Midwest metro areas boast of Victorian and newer conservatories. However, a tropical experience on a more intimate scale is possible in towns where some garden centers have greenhouses filled with light, warmth and life. Think of this as green therapy.
Among the Midwest public gardens featuring orchid shows during the seemingly endless wait until spring are:
The possession a person values most varies as widely as personal tastes. Cars, boats, houses, antiques, islands and jewels certainly rate as most valued for some. Not me.
Like many people across the ages and continents, I
value something that seems commonplace but uniquely expresses its owner.
While I certainly like a smooth-riding car and
comfortable home, my treasure offers so much more than dust-collecting
furniture. When calm and isolation are required, I needn’t board a jet (private
or commercial) to flit to a distant tropic isle in an azure sea. As for jewels,
few pirate chests contain more splendor.
Where else does music, art, history, family
tradition, science and sustenance meld in a single creation? Truly this is
a many splendored thing.
Those of us who have such a possession give our
treasure a unique twist, for the basic elements can be infinitely arranged,
timed and colored, Constant, though imperceptible, change is a given and
usually welcomed. Time eventually changes everything, but not always for
the better. Cars rust. Paint fades. Roofs leak. We, however, plan for a future
that will probably be radically different from where we start.
Each season, actually each moment, brings changes in
hue, shape and content. Over the years, only photographs will bear witness to
what it was “back then” and what it is now. Due to the fragility of our
most-valued possession, such graphic evidence is all that remains after we
leave it behind, as inevitably we will.
Depending on its design and scope, our possession
may enfold us in seclusion or put us centerstage in a dazzling show. Some of us
have possessions that do both. Broad smiles, sighs of pleasure and occasional
gasps of delight are usually heard when we share our possession with others.
Our treasure may exude a fragrance no perfume maker can duplicate. It may
produce songs Mozart could never compose or colors to make Monet jealous.
No matter its size or cost, we are stewards of an
incredibly complex operating system that consists of countless life forms.
Can’t say that about a car or diamond ring.
We hold life itself when seeds spill from a little
paper packet into our cupped hand. From such tiny, insignificant
things, we can produce a living mosaic of seedlings, giants towering a 100
feet, and a host of all sizes in between.
We invite birds, butterflies, bees and toads to
share the treasure. Few mansion owners want that kind of company on their
Our treasure is a garden, whether potted plants by
the window, manicured acres or postage stamp plots. My garden around the family
home place includes sugar maples over a century old ,planted by great-uncles,
flowers passed down from almost every side of the family, gifts from gardening
friends, and a few new introductions. Some are native plants, others from China
or Europe. The Madonna lilies from Grandpa Leach’s garden have been
cultivated since ancient times.
Money is an essential for creating and maintaining a
garden; some say it is the best manure. But the most important ingredient is
passion. Ours is a labor of love. We dig, water, prune and fertilize with our
hearts. Working with nature, the forever owner of our treasure, we cultivate a
vision in three dimensions and a span of time.
We are called gardeners. Is that because our most
valuable possession possesses us?
Hello 2019! It’s an exciting time for the plant world as the horticulture industry experiences a renaissance. According to the 2019 Garden Trends Report by the Garden Media Group, American gardeners set a record $47.8 billion in lawn on garden retail sales (from bulbs to outdoor furniture), and the average household set a spending record of $503 up nearly $100 over the previous year. And 18-34 year-olds are spending more than ever.
Houseplants Craze: In Nov. 2018, the New York Times reported plant influencers in their twenties and thirties are fueling a new generation’s obsession with houseplants that’s growing faster and more tenaciously than English ivy. Horticulture stars of Instagram, like Houseplantclub, now have book deals, sponsors and hundreds of thousands of followers. In addition, a host of highly curated houseplant stores including Midwestern ones like Stump, Fern, Darling Botanical, Art Terrarium and Mod Gen are cleverly promoting plants such as pilea, fiddleleaf fig, succulents and Monstera (#MonsteraMonday).
New Plant Performers: Today’s newest annuals and perennials are more than pretty. To make it past tough trial garden managers, these new introductions also must appeal to pollinators and stand up to the Midwest’s weather extremes. This year’s standouts include Allium ‘Millenium,’ Agastache rugosa ‘Little Adder,’ Vinca Tattoo series, Celosia argentea ‘Asian Garden,’ Mangave ‘Inkblot,’ Portulaca ColorBlast Double Magenta, and Gomphrena ‘Truffula Pink.’ Check out the complete list of trial managers’ favorites.
‘Stem to Root’ Edibles: While plant-based diets remain hot, it’s no surprise the trend spills over into vegetable gardening and support for local growers. One theme that is gaining momentum is the stem to root concept. Advocated by Ohio chefs like Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute and Cara Mangini, author of The Vegetable Butcher, they teach ways to use all parts of a vegetable. For example, Jamie showed me how to make an asparagus salad sautéing the tips, shaving ribbons of the stalks and pressing the stem ends into a juice for a dressing.
Plants As Social Change Agents: More and more communities are recognizing the power of plants as catalysts for social change. Downtowns are carving out more green spaces for public parks. Urban neighborhoods are planting community gardens to bring nutritious produce to food deserts. Streetscapes are being redesigned with more plants to attract consumers and create an environment for increased spending. All over the country, gardens are being planted to engage veterans, convicts, at-risk teens, recovering addicts, women’s shelter residents, cancer patients, college students, immigrant families and more.
Insect Apocalypse: The plight of pollinators and Monarchs has been in the news for several years, but a German study on insect decline is drawing attention to threats on the broader insect population. Personally, I’ve been tracking dragonfly counts as a part of the Ohio Odonoata Survey, and the experience is giving me a new appreciation for the role habitat plays in supporting healthy insect populations. In the gardening world, gardeners can help curb insect decline by creating healthy habitats and by learning responsible pest control practices such as IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Joe Lamp’l of Growing A Greener World does a great job of explaining IPM for home gardeners.
Plastic Waste in Gardening: Last year, plastic straws were on the hot seat as communities began to ban them and food service companies like Starbucks and McDonalds announced plans to phase them out. National Geographic coverage of floating plastic masses in the Pacific Ocean spurred further conservations about plastic pollution and the need to reduce single-use plastics. The gardening world is taking positive steps by organizing plastic pot recycling events and developing compostable containers.
Repost from Dec. 25, 2014: Pipe Down to Hear What a Garden Has to Say
By Michael Leach
A dozen piping pipers could be fine in some gardens, but for most of us, wind chimes and fountains are the only tolerable decibels.
Unless bluejays squawk about a lack of peanuts, the wind roars through frantic tree tops, or a riding mower pretends to be a biker-gang Harley, sound rarely breaks into our consciousness in a garden. That’s largely due to gardens being places traditionally sought for their quiet. Yet a garden can be “noisy.”
The garden’s gentle, subtle tongue speaks in the rustle of leaves. It whispers with the warm breath of breezes caressing our skin. It hums startlingly when a hummingbird whirs past in zigzag swoops.
The garden talks, too, in the silence of fireflies dancing in twilight.
I take for granted some of this “chatter” or worse, block it with a mind too concerned about weeding, watering and countless other chores. We may even ignore our gardens’ soothing comments because we are too busy listing their deficiencies.
A garden blesses all our senses. It wants to be our personal spa and use invisible “hands” to restore our beings as surely as a masseuse eases physical aches. For the garden to heal us, we must let go; then listen to and follow nature’s command.
The garden’s message comes from the Creator who made the first garden, the one we keep trying to recreate. Ours will never be the perfection of Eden, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the story of paradise. Gardens still speak that same language.
Repost from Dec. 24, 2014: The Grass Connection with Woodwinds
By Debra Knapke
I have memories of high school friends sucking on their reeds for their clarinets, oboes and bassoons before a rehearsal or concert. The reeds needed to be pliable, or we would hear the ear-splitting shriek of a squeezed-out note. Little did I know that the little piece of reed would reappear in my life in the form of a large grass that I teach in my plant classes.
Arundo donax or giant reed grass is an impressive specimen in the garden at 10 to 15 feet tall and easily spreading five to six feet wide. I describe it as a “corn plant on steroids.” If you like the look of this structural plant, but don’t have the room, consider using the variegated variety: A. donax var. versicolor, pictured below in a beautiful combination with our native black-eyed Susan.
There is a dark side to this plant. In warmer states, there is a clone of giant reed that is invasive. Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia and the southern region of Illinois comprise the northern border of its invasive march. In these states, giant reed has a long enough season in which to produce seed. For now, Ohio does not have any stands of the invasive genotype, but that will change as global climate change progresses. Another reason to use the variegated plant: for now, it does not produce seed.
Repost from Dec. 23, 2014: Reach for the sky — to create garden excitement
By Michael Leach
“Leaping” conjures images of Johnny-Jump-Up doing his jack-in-the-box imitation, perhaps inspired by a prod from mischievous red-hot pokers. All the while Lord Baltimore the hibiscus looks on in glee and ignites the sky with Fireworks goldenrod and blazing stars.
Punning aside, “leaping” draws the eye upward. Such vertical elements are must-haves in the landscape, whether we’re talking window boxes or estates. Verticals come in many forms and serve as exclamation points. Like exclamation points, they are used only with utmost care or they lose their punch.
A series of verticals becomes the rhythm of trees in an allee or pillars of a long pergola. Shadows of such verticals transform pavement or lawn into a giant page of notebook paper.
Literally leaping — Water jets, a la Versailles, leap. Same goes for the humbler fountains in city parks and college campuses. But few of us have the means or staff to keep gallons by the gazillions pumping into the air. A pity, for the effect is magical, especially so when illuminated at night.
Visual leaps also come from accessories, such as arbors, sun dials, tuteurs, sculptures and columnar plants.
A favorite “recipe” — One of the most comforting and soothing combinations for me is a porch swing hanging from the sturdy limb of a capacious shade tree — the meatloaf of landscaping. The vertical trunk and pair of ramrod chains play a harmonious counterpart to the wide, welcoming horizontality of the seat. Few better places exist for spending a summer afternoon.
Repost from Dec. 22, 2014:Honoring the Mother Mary
By Debra Knapke
It seems appropriate for this season that we celebrate plants that reference the Mother Mary.
If you see Lady as part of the common name, it is probable that this is a plant that was precious to the Mother Mary. There are many stories that combine Mary’s love of plants and how they figured in different moments of her life.
Other common names that relate to Mary include virgin and, of course, the eponymous: Mary. In 2004 I was one of many Ohio authors at a book signing event in Cleveland. We were at tables in alphabetical order. My table partner was Vincenzia Krymow, author of Mary’s Flowers: Gardens, Legends, and Meditations: Living Legends of Our Lady. We had a delightful time discussing plants, philosophy and life as we waited for someone, anyone, to buy our books.
The plants loved by Mary are beautiful and many are herbal. If you decide that you would like to create a garden that honors Mary, consider these nine plants:
Lady’s mantle – Alchemilla mollis –
(Our) Lady’s thimble – Campanula rotundifolia
Virgin’s bower – Clematis vitalba
(Our) Lady’s slipper –Cypripedium calceolus
Christmas rose; rose de Noel – Helleborus niger
Mary’s dying plant – Lavandula officinalis (L. angustifolia is the valid name)
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis
Marigold – Tagetes sps. and cultivars
Costmary – Tanacetum balsamita
‘Wishing you remembrance and love for this season.
Reposted from Dec. 21, 2014: Eight Maids A Milking
By Debra Knapke
I have had a love affair with campanulas since I started growing them in the mid-90’s. Call me fanciful, but their floral cups and stars look like pretty blue skirts in the garden. And, if fairies truly exist, these skirts would be their fancy dress.
Campanula ‘Chewton Joy’
What does this have to do with Eight Maids a Milking? One of the special characteristics of the bellflower family (Campanulaceae) is that they contain a latex-based, milky sap that either tastes bad to predators or clogs their sucking mouthparts. Think about sipping on a rubber-glove cocktail, and you’ll get the idea. A plant has to develop protective mechanisms if it is to survive being eaten by any animal that wants a meal.
Other plants have used this strategy. The milkweed/dogbane (Apocynaceae) and euphorbia (Euphobiaceae) families also contain an unpalatable milky sap. The poinsettia, one of our favorite Christmas decorations, will ooze sticky droplets from damaged leaves and stems.
I have been told that these droplets are very bitter… I cannot confirm that from personal experience.
‘Wishing you a tasty holiday free from bitter experiences.
Reposted from Dec. 20, 2014: Seven Swans A-Swimming
By Debra Knapke
We have all grown up knowing the story of the ugly duckling in some form. Hans Christian Andersen allegedly stated that this tale came out of his own life because he was the different child, “a tall, ugly boy with a big nose and big feet” (1) who matured into an accomplished singer and storyteller.
There are other tales that feature one or more swans. The swan is used as a symbol of transformation, of understanding oneself and finding balance, and of having grace and inner beauty. And like the many other birds, pairs often form life bonds.
In real life, take care when you approach a swan. That gliding beauty may grace you with her presence, but she may just as easily attack, especially if she has young. A 30-pound flying bird with a six- to eleven-foot wingspan is not an animal to be messed with.
Swanplant (Asclepias physocarpa)
A different swan ornaments our gardens. The swanplant, a tender shrub, is a species of milkweed from South Africa. Its balloon-like seedpod is attached to the stem by a curved pedicel that mimics the graceful neck of a swan. It is difficult to see in the below picture, so you will just have to start it from seed next spring to see it. Sources for swanplant are limited. One source is joyfulbutterfly.com.
‘May you cultivate inner beauty and find balance this season and in the new year
1 – stated by British journalist Anne Chisholm (2005) in her review of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Life by biographer Jens Andersen, published in the US in 2006.
Reposted from Dec. 19, 2014: Get Your Goose — But in a Humane Way
By Michael Leach
Six geese a laying — preferably in someone else’s yard. Wildlife-friendly gardens offer many pluses. But as the word wildlife suggests, nature’s creatures can be anything but cuddly cartoon characters. Fraternity toga parties have nothing on squirrels raiding the bird feeder. And don’t get us started on deer — despite their vital role in at least one Christmas tradition.
Pull up the welcome mat — A bit of landscape planning will cook the geese’s garden party. That’s one part of a three-pronged approach to dissuade geese recommended by the Humane Society of the United States.
Landscape changes include: limiting the amount of lawn, which is a favorite food; adding clumps of taller plantings to provide predator hiding places; maintaining stands of trees between water and grass to prevent geese from flying through; and using dense plantings along shorelines as a barrier between food and water.
Addling eggs (there’s a training manual for the proper approach) and humanely scaring the geese are the two other parts of the plan.
Find more help — Visit the Humane Society, where you’ll also find tips for managing Santa’s helpers and those raucous squirrels.