Thursday, April 17, 2008

Springville Park

I am proud to announce the Springville Park will be open this weekend for the annual Jackass Mail Run. My garden group, Springville Garden Friends, volunteered to plant the clock tower bed for the park today. You'll see a few candid shots taken by Phyllis of our garden group hard at work this morning at the clock tower.
The Springville Park planning, renovations, construction, and installation has been a wonderful community effort over the last several months if not years. Our garden club is but a very small part of the effort poured out by the community for our town's park. Our town is only about 1600 people but the park now looks like it belongs in a city of over 100,000 people. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in making this project a reality.
Phyllis took some wonderful photos of us. After we dug in the dirt, we all congregated at Springville Lavender Gardens with a brown bag lunch, imbibed in some lavender lemonade and some well deserved relaxation under the wisteria pergola.

You're invited to visit Springville Lavender Gardens this weekend for a native plant tour in commemoration of the 47th Annual Jackass Mail Run, and, of course, to see the new Springville Park.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Roses: Fragrant & Symbolic

Despite their thorns, roses are the most popular flower. The rose has been a symbol of romance for decades. Roses are popular because of their beauty and fragrance, they are relatively hardy and easy to grow, they don't have to be replanted every year, many are repeat bloomers, and they come in many colors. There are probably many more reasons, but look for yourself at some of the roses growing in my garden and see if you don't agree that roses are wonderful.

Mr. Lincoln: On of the all time favorite garden roses. Mr. Lincoln has velvety deep red petals and is a hybrid tea. Strongly scented flowers are held upright on stiff stems, and flowers are good for cutting. This one is growing along the drive into the gardens. Red roses are a symbol of beauty, romantic love, courage and passion.

Cecile Brunner: Nicknamed the 'Sweetheart Rose', this polyantha has perfectly formed tiny pink buds with 18 petals. Cecile Brunner was developed in 1894 and is lightly fragrant, a once-blooming climber in my garden although it is often sold as a continuous bloomer. Dainty flowers and an aggressive vine which will grow to 20 to 30 feet. If you want to cover an arbor quickly but are willing to do lots of pruning at the end of the year, this one is for you. Cecile is growing on the rose arbor. Pink is a symbol of elegance, gracefulness, appreciation, and says thank you.

Midas Touch: A beautiful hybrid tea yellow rose almost golden in the sunlight with 17 to 25 petals and bred in the United States in 1992. Midas Touch has 4 inch blooms in flushes throughout the season and has a warm musky scent. Midas is growing near Mr. Lincoln along the drive into the gardens. Yellow roses are a symbol of youth, happiness, friendship, a new beginning, and are given to remind the receiver of the sender.

Angle Face: A strong citrus scented lavender floribunda, cluster flowered, developed in the United States in 1968. Blooms are 3 inches in diameter with ruffled petals. Climbing Angle Face is along the driveway and upright Angle Face is under the ash tree. Lavender roses are a symbol of love at first sight and enhandement.

Devoniensis: An old fashioned climber from the United Kingdom developed in 1858. Known as the magnolia rose, this fragrant, repeat bloomer has a strong tea scent. The blooms are soft cream colored and about 4 inches in diameter. This rose is growing on the left side of the potting shed.

Sombreuil: Another old fashioned climber from France developed in 1850. Fragrant fairly strong tea scent, creamy white flowers and a repeat bloomer. This one is growing on the right side of the potting shed. White roses are a symbol of purity, innocence, humility, youthfulness, sincerity and unity.

Joseph's Coat: An slightly fragrant orange climber developed in the United States in 1964. Joseph's Coat blooms open yellow orange then change to red and gold. The rose is disease resistant, has 20 or more petals and blooms continuously with hanging clusters. Joseph's Coat is growing on the re-bar arbor near the perennial border. Orange roses symbolize enthusiasm and desire.

The roses will be blooming over the next several weeks. I have over 50 roses growing in the gardens and some of the roses were planted by a previous owners. I would like to identify each rose, so if you see a rose and know its name, please let me know. Hope to see you soon.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Pollinators Wanted

When warm weather hits the garden pollinators are out in force. What is a pollinator? A pollinator is responsible
for providing food for the world! Strong words, yes, but without pollinators we wouldn't be able to survive, we wouldn't have enough food. The dictionary definition is a vector that moves pollen from the male parts of a flower, or anther, to the female parts of a flower, the stigma. In this way the plant is fertilized and can then develop fruit or seed. Pollinators are usually insects such as butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, and flies. Other pollinators are lizards, hummingbirds, bats and even other mammals may carry pollen from the anther to the stigma of a flower. Some plants are pollinated by wind like wheat, rise and corn. Other plants are self pollinators like peanuts or soybeans. Humans can be pollinators too. We might hand pollinate our garden vegetables due to pollinator decline or to keep a species genetically the same. Many new varieties of plants are developed by someone who hand pollinates one variety with another.

As I am writing, a picture comes to my mind of armies of robot insects swarming about. And that's about what it seemed like today. The wisteria was humming with honey bees and carpenter bees. The hummingbird was buzzing around the salvia. The alyssum was attracting bees to the vegetable bins and the apple tree blossoms were visited by many an insect too.

We can all use a few more pollinators. I encourage pollinators in my garden by leaving a low, flat container of fresh water for insects to drink from. I place a small stick in the water so any insect falling in can get up and fly out. I also place a rock in my birdbaths. I don't use any pesticides or herbicides unless I absolutely have to and never when pollinators are present. I use the pollinator stamp on my mail. Oftentimes visitors to the garden will remark "Doesn't that plant attract a lot of bees?" I say yes, but the bees are no bother, they just go about their business and leave me alone. I have harvested my lavender for four years now and have never been stung by a bee while harvesting.

French Lavender, Lavandula dentata

Everyone thinks of French lavender as very fragrant. However, French lavender, Lavandula dentata, is not known for its fragrance. But the varieties of lavender grown in France for essential oil production are very fragrant. Those varieties are a cross between two different lavenders, Lavandula angustifolia and Lavandula latifolia. I will post about these varieties another time. It all boils down to the names we use to identify plants. There are many similar common names but only one botanical name. For example, there are many trees called maple, but there is a big difference between sugar maple and Japanese maple. If you ask for a maple tree at the nursery you might not get the variety you want unless you use the botanical name. Using botanical names for plants can help to assure you will get the particular plant variety you want.

In most nurseries you will find plants labelled as French lavender to be Lavandula dentata. The photo to the left is French Lavender or Lavandula dentata. A good way to tell is to look at the leaf of the plant up close. You will see there are dents in the leaf, hence the botanical name dentata. French Lavender or Lavandula dentata is grown because of its extended bloom time. Recently in the nursery there has been a newer variety of French lavender called Gray French lavender. The photo to the right is Gray French Lavender or Lavandula dentata 'Gray'.

One of the nurseries I really like to get lavender plants and other herbs from is Mountain Valley Growers. They grow organic herbs and are a mail order nursery only. Before you discount them because of that, please give them a try. They were the first nursery I ever ordered plants through the mail from and I am glad I did. The plants come delivered right to your door and in fine shape for planting. Mountain Valley Growers has an excellent website with good descriptions of the organic herbs they grow and their growing requirements.

Any of the lavenders look so much better in person. If you live nearby and want to see the various lavenders in bloom, please come for a visit. You can come to visit by appointment or you'll find my days open listed on my website under News and Events, Springville Lavender Gardens. I will be posting here about my lavender blooms times. Right now the French lavenders are blooms along with the wisteria, now in full bloom and some of the roses. The rest of the lavender usually blooms the middle of May through June. I'll keep you posted, so check back often and be sure to ask questions here or make comments.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Gardening Bonds a 37 Year Age Difference

My father-in-law who is 94 this year, is 37 years older than I am. When my father-in-law came to live with us seven years ago, I learned right away he likes the outdoors and can spend hours watching the birds and butterflies. Since he worked outdoors most of his life, nature is familiar and comforting to him. What a match the pair of us have become over the years, I love to garden and he loves the outdoors. I work in the garden and he sits on the patio, watching the birds visiting the birdbaths and bird feeders nearby. He gets his daily exercise by walking around the gardens and he stays reasonably healthy that way.

Many adult children are faced with caring for their aging parents and face difficult emotional and financial times. With the rise in health care costs, the rise in the cost of living, and the lack of suitable arrangements for the elderly, many folks, like my husband and myself, find themselves in a situation where they realize if they don't care for their parents themselves, then who will.

My husband and I have been caring for my father-in-law for the past seven years. My husband promised his father a long time ago that he would not put him in a nursing home. So when my father-in-law was unable to take care of himself, he came to live with us. My father-in-law does not have Alzheimer's, but he does have short term memory loss due to a series of small strokes in his brain. The strokes did not affect him physically, but unfortunately they affected his brain and his ability to function independently or live on his own.

Short term memory loss can be even more difficult to understand and deal with than Alzheimer's is. When a person cannot remember something a few minutes after they are told something or remember if they have eaten or not, the caregiver has to take on the role of "thinking" or "anticipating the needs" for the other person. Over the years I have learned that if I am thirsty, I offer a drink to my father-in-law (he never asks for anything and does not initiate actions on his own). I gently remind and suggest that he take a trip to the restroom regularly as he doesn't remember he hasn't been there for a while. Over time I have learned this is the best way for him to remain as independent as possible, to keep him healthy, and for "accidents" to be prevented.

I debated whether to post about this personal aspect of our family life, but if even one family can relate to, or learn from my post, then it is definitely a post of value.

Grains of Paradise - Helps Heart Disease in Wild Gorillas

Heart disease in gorillas might sound like a funny topic for a garden blog, but I firmly believe what we eat directly affects our health and it stands to reason diet affects the health of gorillas too. Gorillas in captivity are succumbing to heart disease and scientists are looking at their diet to see if that might have something to do with their heart problems. In the wild, gorillas prefer to eat the shoots of a plant called Grains of Paradise, Aframomum melegueta, or Guinea pepper and the gorillas live much longer and healthier lives than those in zoos. African healers have used this same plant to treat infections for centuries and in West African villages visitors to homes eat the seeds of the plant before any discussions take place.

Scientists are researching Aframomum and the results look promising for the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of this plant. Future antibiotics or arthritis drugs may be derived from the Aframomum plant. When you think about it many of our modern day medicines are derived from plants such as aspirin from willow bark, digitalis from foxglove, penicillin from orange mold, codeine and morphine from the poppy, and many more.

So if you plan on cooking something, add some herbs and spices, besides making your food taste better, you never know what health benefits you may be getting from the herbs, spices and food you eat.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Raised Planting Bins

Raised planting bins are really useful for so many reasons. To name a few: the soil in the planting bins heats up earlier in the season than the ground does, the soil doesn't get compacted from walking on, the soil drains well, planting and harvesting of herbs, vegetables or flowers from bins is easier because you don't have to bend over as far, underground varmints can't eat the roots, and there is less damage to young seedlings by crawling insects, slugs or snails.

The photo on the right shows our row of bins. This time of year the bins don't look like much because the plants are so small, but wait a month or two and you won't be able to see the bins at all due to the size of the plants. I have alyssum planted in the center of the bins to help attract bees for pollination. We constructed our bins from recycled lumber. There was a corral behind our barn and since we weren't going to have cows or horses we tore the corral down and used the posts and boards for our bins, our grape support system and our wisteria arbor. Recycled lumber can be found most any place, even old doors can be used. I would not recommend using treated lumber or railroad ties for vegetables bins as chemicals used in the wood may leach into the soil and be taken up by the plants.

Since we have lots of gophers here, we placed aviary wire on the bottom of each bin so gophers could not burrow up from the ground. Then we placed the boards on top of the soil and screwed 4x4 posts inside each corner for support. The bins are 12 feet long x 2.5 feet wide and 20 inches tall. The lumber we had happened to be 12 feet long so we just kept it to that dimension We mixed native soil with about a third compost and placed this in the bins, watered them well and if the mixture settled, we added some more, keeping it about two inches below the top. To the left you see my pepper bin, smaller than the other bins. I use baskets for my tomatoes, peppers and flowers to keep the wind from blowing them over. In each bin, we placed ground cover cloth over the top of the soil. We cut X's in the cloth every two feet and that's where we plant the vegetables, herbs or flowers. The less soil exposed, the less weeding we have to do. We have placed bark on top of the ground cover cloth. Both the ground cover cloth and the bark help to retain moisture in the summer months. I rotate my vegetables to different bins each year as each plant requires different nutrients. This will be the fourth year for the wood bins and they are still holding up.

If you can afford the cost, I recommend building bins from cinder blocks. The advantage of cinder block is they don't rot like wood does and the hollow space in the center of the block is an insulator for the soil. When we lived in Arkansas we made bins from cinder blocks with a block top cap. We could sit on the top cap to harvest our herbs, vegetables and flowers. We did not use mortar to build them, so if we ever wanted to move the bins, we could just take the cinder blocks down. We placed the cinder blocks four high and overlapped the seams. We made the block bins about 4 foot square.

With a little effort and time, you can construct your own bins, even in a limited planting area, and reap the rewards of your harvest.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Arbors, Pergolas & Patio Coverings

Most people living in a hot climate, want trees for shade. But you can also gain some relief from the hot summer sun from arbors, pergolas and patio coverings and they are a quick way to gain instant shade. When we moved to our location over 4 years ago, we decided to put in a few arbors and pergolas and patio coverings as soon as possible. We sited the structures to take advantage of adjacent shade and chose plants which would cover the structures quickly. As with any plants that grow quickly, they may take more time to prune than slower growing plants.

The first pergola we put in was the wisteria pergola. The concrete is 12 x 20 feet, but the posts are set in about 1.5 feet and there is a built in planter for the two wisteria I planted on either end of the pergola. When I bought the wisteria, they were already trained as standards and had about a three foot square of greenery and a few blossoms on them. Within one year half of the pergola was covered and within two years the wisteria covered the whole pergola. With lots of pruning this past winter, the wisteria has thousands of blossoms and is just beautiful. The pergola is large enough to have three small tables or one huge one and we have hosted several dinners and events under the shade of the wisteria. Having a plant covered pergola is wonderful since the breezes in summer flow through making the shade more pleasant than a solid roofed patio covering.

When we built our gallery/gift shop, we wanted to take advantage of the winter sun, but we also wanted to shade the windows in the summer to reduce heat gain. On the front and back of the shop, we have solid roof overhangs and on the east side we have a slatted roof overhang. In summer at different times of the day, we can sit in the shade provided by on of the three overhangs. In the winter we can sit under the overhang facing south and since the sun is low in the sky that time of year, we can enjoy the warmth. The concrete surrounding the shop allows solar gain in winter by warming up during the day and reflecting heat back into the building at night.

While constructing our rose arbor, we made sure it was tall and wide enough to walk under and there was room to place a couple of benches to sit on. The arbor is 10 x 5 and about 8 feet tall. We also had to make the arbor strong enough to support the weight of the fast growing roses I planted underneath, Cecile Brunner. I also planted Jasminum polyanthum, pink jasmine, on the south facing side. The pink jasmine is a little frost tender in this area, so I wanted to make sure it got early morning and winter sun. In three years the arbor is completely covered by the Cecile Brunner roses and you wouldn't know it now, but I actually pruned it very severely this past winter. I will post another photo of this arbor when the roses and jasmine are in full bloom.

The pergola was built at the top of our herb garden for three reasons. The first to minimize or screen our 4000 gallon water holding tank, second to benefit from the afternoon shade the tank gives, and last to take advantage of the spectacular views of Black Mountain to the East. When I tell people about the water tank they have actually asked me where it is. Since the eye is drawn to the pergola rather than the water tank, some how the water tank seems invisible.

This year I am already enjoying the shade provided by our wisteria pergola, sitting in the shade and hearing the hum of the bees above. As soon as the jasmine and Cecile Brunner begins to bloom I'll be sitting in the shade there too. Later in the year the herb garden pergola is perfect in the late afternoon. Our garden structures are serving their purpose well and providing beauty to look at as well as a source of food and shelter for the insects and birds as well.