Monday, May 13, 2013
Last year the azaleas in front of our house bloomed in nice, neat, round bushes, as they have for years. They gave the entrance a pleasing and colorful approach. Most of the other azalea bushes in the neighborhood behaved in a similar way. They were polite. Refined. At the end of the season, I pruned the bushes to remove some dead branches, being careful about pruning off the buds that are laid down after the plants bloom. I expected another year of dignified flowering.
This year they flowered, right on schedule, sending out their customary peachy blossoms. Only something changed. The bushes became exuberant! They shot out beyond their customary shape and reached for the sun. There is no restraint here. I had never seen anything like it.
Each time I think I should do something about the wildness, I end up smiling instead. When I come home, I have to stop for a minute to enjoy the fullness of the bushes and the in-your-face burst of flowers before going inside. My friend, coming to visit, stood dumbfounded when she saw the azaleas. “They don’t usually grow like that,” she said. Certainly not in suburban gardens. Then she said something about them fitting in with my energy.
That got me thinking. There are thousands of varieties of azaleas, with different colors, heights, petals, and growing patterns - in their own particular way. There are billions of people expressing themselves in their own particular ways. And why not? There is energy in diversity. If we can tolerate, even desire, variety in Mother Nature then why not in human nature, too? There may be surprises, sometimes problems, but most often there is dynamic growth.
A helpful guide to growing azaleas:
For FAQ and in-depth answers, try the Azalea Society of America’s website:
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Strawberries – Big, Yummy, and Organic
I love strawberries. They usually are small to medium in size but the package I just bought has huge berries! Not only are they big but they are yummy, too. What a Spring treat.
Which leads me to a distressing subject – the quality of our food. Strawberries are on “The Dirty Dozen” list. So are cherries, grapes, spinach and potatoes, among others. This list indicates that certain fruits and vegetables retain the highest levels of pesticides.
Other than growing our own produce, what can we do to get the best quality food for our families? Well, I buy mostly organic. What does organic mean? According to the USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts, “Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations…Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”
While there is no way to guarantee that organic food will be pesticide free (considering the air, water, and soil quality), at least we can support programs that attempt to produce food without adding chemicals into the process.
I tend to buy organic, especially of the most pesticide-susceptible foods. More stores, even the larger supermarkets, are carrying organic products now. But the choice is ours to make. I see organic farming as not only offering us healthy foods but also as supporting our planet. These strawberries are a responsible – and delicious - example of what can be produced.
Check out “The Dirty Dozen” and find some safer produce items:
USDA definition and regulations:
If you want more detailed (and somewhat scary) info:
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Groundcover Plants Add to a Garden
I have pachysandra growing in my backyard. It is flowering now; delicate white blossoms are peeking out from their green leaves. Pachysandra is a groundcover plant. Groundcover is exactly what it says – a plant that covers the ground. It spreads easily and makes the space where it’s planted a garden feature.
We have another groundcover in our front yard, too. It is Vinca or periwinkle, a plant that sprouts little purple flowers and can take over a lawn.
I love the way these plants seem to take care of themselves. Whatever the season, they bring green vibrancy to the area where they grow. In Spring, they send up flowers that are a nice reminder of what is ahead. In Winter, they remain green under the snow and slough off the frigid temperatures. The rest of the year they just grow – and spread – as the garden goes through its cycles.
There are a variety of reasons to plant groundcover. A steep incline can be kept from losing soil with a covering of St. John’s Wort, for instance. Shady spots that could use a little color would look nice with a covering of blue Ajuga leaves. There is a plant for almost every need. Plus, I think, groundcover plants add an air of sophisticated neatness to a garden.
It’s almost as if groundcover knows it has a chore to do and just does it. It makes me think of the idiom to “cover a lot of ground” which means to deal with a lot of information or to travel a great distance. It implies a purpose and determination, a stick-to-it quality. I hope I have that when there is a job to be done. There is a positive energy to the phrase, a hint of admiration when someone covers a lot of ground. These plants seem to embody the concept and I do admire them for it.
Some varieties to investigate:
Monday, April 22, 2013
I like to see the magnolia trees around my neighborhood. Their flowers are full and fancy, the petals soft to the touch, and the fragrance is enticing. I tended to think of magnolias as only southern trees. Not so. They grow in a wide range of areas. In fact, there are some 200 varieties around the world and they all are beautiful.
But there are positive and negatives to most things and magnolias are not an exception. Here are some of the positives:
Magnolia trees definitely have that WOW factor. They are magnificent trees that are hard to ignore.
They are relatively fast growing.
They produce incredible flowers, which come in many colors depending upon the variety, that are a delight to our senses.
They come in many choices including evergreen or deciduous trees.
You can find a variety that suits your location and preferred blooming time.
Some of the negatives:
Spent magnolias flowers literally cover the ground when they fall.
The flowers produce pollen – good for the beetles that feed on them but not so good for allergy sufferers.
Their roots are ropy and can get tangled around the base and they also extend farther out than most trees, which makes them hard to transplant.
They can be large and dominate a landscape, up to 80 feet tall and 50 feet wide, though there are smaller options that are more in the 25 feet tall and 20 feet wide size.
Magnolia wood is soft and is prone to breakage in storms and damage by mowers and string trimmers.
So it is kind of a balance among factors - beauty, maintenance, drama, practicality, delight, appropriateness – at least for us as homeowners and planters. The yin and yang of nature. Most of life is poised between the two. What seems positive at one time may shift to negative at another and vice versa. The magnolia just follows its genetic path being magnificent and troublesome, depending on one’s point of view. Why shouldn’t we enjoy the positive even as we deal with the negative?
Monday, April 15, 2013
“April showers bring May flowers.” Remember that old saying? Well, here we are in April, experiencing a variety of showers from the drizzle today to the downpour a few nights ago. The early bloomers are drinking it up while the soil is warming up and loosening for Spring planting.
It’s nice to have the illusion of predictability that the saying implies, especially as the seasons have been a little different lately – hardly any snow in winter (at least not around my backyard though some places had whopper storms that slammed them with feet, not inches) and eighty-plus degrees before Spring had a chance to take a deep breath. But plants are not relying on the saying to do what they do. It has as much to do with where they are growing, whether they are annuals or perennials, when they develop their bulbs or seeds. Even so, rain does bring warmer temperatures and moisture that stimulates plant growth and energizes the earth.
If we look deeper into the saying, however, we can see that it is as much about us as it is about rain and flowers. It hints of sunny times following clouds, of the value of patience, and of keeping a positive outlook even when things seem dark and dreary. Sort of a prompt to our growth as well. Not a bad way to start the season, whenever the season starts for you.
An overview of how flowers grow: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2008/04/do_april_showers_bring_may_flowers.html
And a look into the origin and symbolism of the saying:
Monday, April 8, 2013
Lavender is Lovely
I went to my local market today and was surrounded by a familiar scent as soon as I went through the door – lavender. There were pots and pots of the plants gracing the flower stand. The flowers were just beginning to open and more buds were peeking out. I passed them by to do my shopping but I went back before I paid. They were just too enticing to ignore.
I had planted lavender in my garden in years past but not recently. I decided this year I would do it again. This is a lovely plant. Tiny purple flowers delicately rise along a thin, green stem. The leaves are subtly elegant with a hint of gentle fuzz that is pleasing to the touch. The smell of lavender can be heady, announcing its presence before the plant is even seen, which must be why it is used in soaps, oils, candles, sachets, even in teas - a treat for the senses.
But then lavender is lovely in other, more important ways. It has a long history of medicinal use and is a staple in aromatherapy. Some is proven, some not, but it is used in a variety of applications for many conditions. One of its uses is for its calming effect. Lavender oil embraces the whole body in the bath. Sniffed, it seems to relax tension and may help with insomnia.
At the very least, lavender is a lovely addition to a garden, as it will be to mine – and maybe to yours?
Look at this lovely plant’s uses:http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/838.html
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
The daffodils are now in full bloom in my backyard. Such a beautiful display. Vibrant yellow flowers brighten up even a cloudy day. The purple periwinkle flowers add their own vibrance in the groundcover that ambles through various spots in the garden. Soon nurseries will be advertising flats of blossoming plants to begin the spring planting season.
I appreciate the rejuvenation of the outside perennials each year yet I don’t want to neglect something that has been blooming all through the winter – my African Violet. It is an indoor plant that has been putting out pretty pink blossoms for much of the year.
I don’t take my African Violet for granted. I know it needs proper tending. The plant needs light, though not direct sunlight, so the north-facing windowsill where it resides is perfect. It likes water but not too much. When the soil seems dry, I give the plant a drink. The recommendation is to water it from the bottom so as not to get the leaves wet. I usually do though sometimes it gets a good soak from the top. No doubt the nurseries wouldn’t approve but my sweet plant doesn’t seem to mind. If the leaves appear a little droopy, I give the plant some food and it perks right up.
All living things have their particular requirements. I value this plant and want it to thrive so I give it what it needs. I value relationships and want them to thrive, too. I try to nurture them in ways that will keep them strong and healthy. We may not all need the same things but care and attention is something everyone – and everything – can benefit from. My African Violet seems to like the interest I take in it. Surely friends and family deserve as much.
Here are tips for caring for African Violets:http://www.uri.edu/ce/factsheets/sheets/africanviolet.html