Monday, January 23, 2023 0 comments


 Dear Dirt Diaries friends,

 My new eBook with tales from The Dirt Diaries is ready to go! It is available for pre-order  today and will be released Wednesday. If you have enjoyed my blog, I think you'll love the book!

Here is the link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BRVV4338?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420

Thank you so much for your support!

 

Saturday, December 17, 2022 1 comments

Just in time for Christmas

 

 

 
When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths, and fragrant firs or pine.
But in addition to traditional greenery, one plant has become a Christmas icon -- the poinsettia. With more than 65 million sold each year, this colorful plant has moved from the desert into three-quarters of American homes to become a holiday superstar.

 'Christmas Joy Marble'



The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a succulent from the arid regions of Central America. It was named after Joel R. Poinsett, a Charleston, S.C. native who was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett was a keen gardener who was captivated by the plant’s vivid color. The bright scarlet objects many thought to be
“flowers” were not flowers at all, but petal-like leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are those little yellow dots at the center of the bracts.

 Because the yellow flowers and attractive bracts emerge during the holiday season, the poinsettia has been a part of Christian celebrations for hundreds of years. In the 17th century, Franciscan priests in Mexico carried poinsettias in nativity processions. The Aztecs were said to have prized the plant for its color and medicinal properties. 


Although poinsettias were well known in Mexico and Central America, it was a family of German immigrants who spied the plants in the desert and created the Christmas favorite we know today.

In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke and his family left Germany to establish a farm in California.  One day his son Paul noticed an unusual plant growing in the wild and decided to develop it as a cut flower. Before long, the family’s fields of poinsettias in Hollywood became a huge tourist attraction. 



In the 1920’s an amateur hybridizer in New Jersey bred a poinsettia called Oak Leaf, which was the first to resemble modern varieties. The Ecke family further developed the plant, then devised a system to distribute cuttings to nurseries throughout the country. Today, the Paul Ecke Ranch holds the patents on most popular varieties and is the largest supplier of poinsettias in the world.

Of course, the traditional red poinsettia remains the top holiday choice, but interest in white, cream, pink, and mottled varieties is on the increase. In fact, the popularity of the red poinsettia has been steadily falling over the past decade thanks to the introduction of new and more colorful varieties each year. One such variety, 'Ice Punch' is cranberry red with frosty white center markings. 

'Ice Punch'



In addition to new colors (PLEASE no glitter-laden or phony blue varieties!) we can thank breeders for giving us plants that last longer and are more vigorous. Today’s poinsettias aren’t too fussy and are relatively easy to care for. Above all, don’t overwater -- plants should be kept on the dry side but don’t allow them to get bone dry. Keep them away from drafts and sources of heat like a fireplace.

This is just wrong!
 
Poinsettias like bright light and will drop leaves and get leggy in a location that’s too dark. A window will provide the light and cool nighttime temperatures plants need to thrive.

It’s possible to keep a poinsettia alive and blooming from year to year, but like most people, I toss mine out about mid-February. It seems sad and cruel to throw away something that was so lovely during the holidays. But by next Christmas, another showy poinsettia will catch my eye, and this year’s beautiful blooms will be just a happy memory.

Here’s hoping your holiday season will be filled with happy memories, too. 

White poinsettias now account for 20% of sales

 P.S. We’ve all heard the rumors that poinsettias are poisonous. Apparently this urban legend started in 1919 when it was reported that a 2-year-old had died after eating a leaf. According to the American Society of Florists, poinsettias have been tested more than any other plant, and the verdict is they are safe for people and pets. But you still wouldn’t want to eat one.

 

Monday, June 6, 2022 1 comments

A thorn by any other name

 

While pruning my roses, I started thinking about thorns. 'L.D. Braithwaite is loaded.

 

Thumbing through a compilation of favorite sayings, you might find 300 or more quotes referring to roses. Many of these adages also mention the dreaded thorns. For instance, Anne Bronte wrote “he that dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” 

And of course we all know “every rose has its thorns.”

But the truth is, those nasty spikes we call thorns are not thorns at all. Botanists actually call them prickles. 

According to the American Rose Society, a thorn is a branch of a plant that becomes woody, hard and pointed. Cactus plants, locust trees and many varieties of citrus have thorns. These thorns are deeply embedded in the plant itself and are difficult to break off. 
 

 The Bourbon rose 'Zephirine Drouhin' is thornless

Rose prickles, on the other hand, can be snapped off quite easily since they are part of the outer layers of the stem. Just give a prickle a little push sideways and see what happens. 

Prickles are smaller than thorns and are useful in helping roses climb across other plants. They can also give potential predators a painful rebuke. (Tender bunny feet hate thorns.)

Although prickles aren’t supposed to be as intimidating as thorns, my arms, legs and face can’t tell much of a difference. When I’m out doing a little impromptu pruning and neglect to dress properly, I come in covered with scratches. I always tell people it’s because my roses love me and want to give me hugs.

Seriously, however, there’s an important reason to protect yourself from prickle punctures. 

Commonly known as rose thorn disease, Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by the fungus Sporothrix schenckii that usually affects the skin but can spread to other parts of the body. Infections in the joints, lungs and central nervous system are possible, although rare.
 
'James Galway' doesn't snag me
 
The fungus is found naturally in soil, on the tips of rose thorns, on sphagnum moss and hay. It enters the skin through small cuts or abrasions and first appears  -- sometimes several weeks after getting pricked – as small bumps. Left untreated, these bumps can later develop into open sores. 

The best advice is to completely avoid this ugly disease by wearing long sleeves and sturdy gloves while working around your roses. I truly love my Bionic Gloves – they are triple layered goatskin gauntlet gloves designed by a hand surgeon that protect my arms up to the elbows. After a weekend of serious pruning I ended up with nary a scratch, avoiding a potentially thorny situation.

 'The Lark Ascending' will sting me when she can
 
Kahil Gibran noted that “the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.”
 

I admire the rose but remain mindful of the thorns just to be safe. And I say thorns because even though I know better, I can’t bring myself to call them prickles.

“Every rose has its prickles” simply doesn’t sound right.

And I prefer the sentiment of this German proverb: “Instead of complaining that the rosebush is full of thorns, be happy the thorn bush has roses.” 



Monday, February 28, 2022 4 comments

Clematis, Queen of the Climbers


Perfect companions, Roses and Clematis

While living in England, I fell in love with country cottages covered in climbing roses. Whether arching over a doorway or smothering a brick wall, climbing roses appeared to be garden showstoppers.

After creating my own garden, I quickly found that climbing roses aren’t exactly eye candy between flushes of bloom. So it made sense to find companion plants that would twine around the rose canes and add interest throughout the growing season. The captivating clematis family, with its broad palette of colors, filled the bill.

'Starry Nights'

The good news is these vines aren’t just great companions for roses. They pair beautifully with hydrangeas, weigelas, lilacs, and viburnum.  And, of course, they are classic choices for covering arbors, scrambling along fences, or growing up into trees. New, petite varieties allow the patio gardener to enjoy these summer favorites as well. In fact, given the wide selection of colors, flower shapes, and sizes available, there is a clematis perfect for every garden.

The large-flowered climbers attract the most attention. Some sport flowers as large as 10 inches across on vines that can grow to 12 feet or more. However, many new selections, such as Vancouver 'Starry Nights', are shorter in stature, which make them ideal for containers and small gardens. The small-flowered varieties make up for their lack of size with bloom power. They tend to produce many more flowers and can be easier to grow.

'Josephine' is a traffic-stopper

I am kind of a sucker for the showy varieties. My ‘Josephine’ starts blooming in May and still throws out a flower or two in October. But it likes to sprawl, so make sure you have enough space for it.

'Piilu’ is kind of the best of both worlds. It is ideal for a container and starts the spring with eye-catching double blooms, then continues later in the season with single flowers.

'Piilu' has a long blooming season

Once you discover the pleasures of clematis, you’ll want to plan for a procession of bloom to last the entire growing year. Just select an early, mid-season, and late-season cultivar, and plant all three in the same vicinity, such as around a fence post. Plant shorter varieties throughout the perennial border to add pops of color in spring, summer, and fall.

Despite misconceptions that clematis are difficult to grow, care is fairly straightforward. The flowers like sun, but the roots like to be shaded to help retain moisture. Dappled sunlight will work for some varieties. Dig the planting hole twice as big as the pot, and make sure the root ball is two inches below the soil level. Take care not to disturb the roots.

After-planting care is critical, says Dan Long, owner of Brushwood Nursery in Athens, Ga. “So many beginning gardeners plunk a plant in the ground, water it once or twice, and then walk away. Varieties of clematis are capable of tremendous growth, but they need plenty of water right away if they are to thrive and live to 50 years or longer.

Mr. Long, also known as the Vine Guy (his nursery carries more than 300 varieties of clematis alone), says it’s hard to say how long it takes a clematis to get established. “I’ve seen some grow 10 feet in a year and bloom with abandon, while others take time to settle into their new homes.”

The best plan is to maintain a generous watering schedule for at least the first year and fertilize regularly once the plants are established. Watch for the same insects and slugs that bother other garden plants. Read the garden tag, consult your local nursery, and be patient. It can take as long as three years for a clematis to hit its peak performance.

But boy, the wait is worth it!

Pink 'James Galway' and deep purple clematis in my garden

Wednesday, January 5, 2022 3 comments

New faces coming to my 2022 garden



Dave Bang's 'Strawberry Swirl' courtesy Bill Kozemchak

 Every Christmas my sister Lisa gives me an Audubon Songbird calendar. It is now up displaying January 2022. It is a new month, in a brand new year. Which means it's time to start dreaming about which roses and perennials I want to add to the garden this spring!

  

Of course, I have things in my “driveway garden” from 2021 and earlier that are still waiting patiently in pots for me to plant them. There is a lovely golden yellow buddleia, the David Austin rose ‘Dame Judy Dench’ and the beautiful multi-color Delbard rose ‘Edward Degas’.

'Dame Judy Dench' is a lady in waiting in my driveway
 Truth is, I don’t really have a space in my small garden to place these plants. But never mind! It will all work out. It always does. As I have written in the past, a love affair with roses can become an addiction. No matter how many roses you have, there is always room for one more.

 So, let’s get this party started!!

 I saw my first selection in a posting on Paul Zimmerman Roses Gardening and knew I had to have it. ‘Broceliande’, is named for the enchanted forest in Brittany, France that is believed to be the birthplace of King Arthur. It has already cast a spell on me even though I haven’t actually seen a bloom in person yet. Fortunately, it was in stock at Palatine Roses in Canada.

'Broceliande' Courtesy Palatine Roses
You must purchase a minimum of three roses to order at Palatine, so I was forced to pick two more! The grandiflora ‘South Africa’ has been turning a lot of heads and rightly so. It is another wonderful rose from Kordes and is described as having “rich, glowing amber flowers” that can will catch your eye even from a distance. Some have described ‘South Africa’ blooms as the color of a ripe cantaloupe. We shall see!

'South Africa' Sunbelt Palatine Roses
Then I selected another Kordes standout, ‘Caramella Fairy Tale’which produces beautiful sprays of amber blooms with a darker reverse all season long. I think it would look perfect beside the yellow buddleia should I ever find room for them.


'Carmella Fairy Tale' Courtesy Kordes

 Last summer I saw an article about hybridizer Dave Bang’s unique and stunning striped miniature roses. After seeing the photos in the article, I immediately checked out the dazzling variety on the K&M Roses website. I restrained myself and only ordered six. I’ll be doing a Dirt Diaries posting on them as soon as I get my hands on these beauties.

'Swizzle' Courtesy Bill Kozemchak
 Roses like companions

 I have always believed in the concept of the Cottage Garden or the “tidy mess’ as Gertrude Jekyll used to say. The concept is to mix roses with a variety of perennial partners so there is always something blooming in the garden. The trick is picking the right perennials. 

My Maryland Cottage Garden
 Over the years I’ve experienced a number of failures with my choices. I’ve never had a coreopsis live to bloom again. Coneflowers disappear, too. Even the Centranthus I couldn’t kill in Maryland has been a flop in the North Carolina mountains.

'Blue Boa' Agastache Courtesy Terra Nova
In 2021, I hit on some successful combos. The agastaches bloomed most of the summer. Low growing dahlias were perfect in the garden borders. And I’ve fallen in love with salvia hybrids. From ‘Hot Lips’ and ‘Amistad’ to ‘Black and Blue’, they put on a show all summer.
Butterflies and hummers love 'Black and Blue'
I particularly loved the ‘Rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes’ hybrid salvia. The color was a beautiful and unusual light blue. Although ‘Black and Blue’ is supposed to be considered an annual, mine come back every spring. I hope ‘Blue Suede’ does, too.

 Countdown to Spring

 All my new roses and a few new perennials will arrive the first or second week of April. I am already counting the days. Will ‘Broceliande’ live up to the hype? After all, copywriters make every offering sound fabulous. (I should know, I wrote descriptions of plants and flowers for White Flower Farm catalogues for several years.)

 Right now, all we can do is hope and dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

Saturday, October 9, 2021 2 comments

Fall rose care in 5 easy steps

 

Extra long canes (like on 'James Galway') may need trimming in the fall

 

In a time when pumpkins and mums dominate the garden landscape, it’s a treat to see some of my favorite roses making their final appearances of the season. These last roses of summer can often be the sweetest – the nip in the air deepens the colors, and the blooms themselves are sometimes a bit larger than usual. 


Crisp autumn evenings can produce the year's most colorful blooms

 

Best of all, I don’t have to worry about pruning or fertilizing until 2022. I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the fall show.

 

The do's and don'ts of fall rose care

 Of course, there are a few chores to be done in the rose garden before winter sets in. But the list is pretty short for most areas of the country and includes more “don’ts” than “do's.”

 

1. For starters, don’t cut your roses back in the autumn. If you prune now, you’ll just suffer dieback and will have to cut back more severely in the spring. Wait until the forsythia blooms in your area before breaking out the secateurs.

 

An exception would be ramblers that bloom on old wood -- if you wait till next year to tidy them up, you may well cut off potential new flowers. Trim about one-third of the growth now and cut out any dead canes.

 

'Crocus Rose' is a late season show-off

I also suggest trimming back bushes that have developed extra-long canes. In my garden, English Roses such as 'James Galway' and the hybrid tea 'Elina'  have thrown out eight-foot canes. I trim those back to waist height so they don’t whip around in winter winds injuring themselves, their neighbors, or me.

 

2. Don’t trim off rose hips, the colorful fruits that form in the late summer and early fall. They often turn lovely shades of orange-red, and are a signal to the bush that it’s time to get ready for a long winter’s nap.

 

3. Do tear off and destroy any leaves that display signs of disease or insect infestation. Also dig up and discard any bushes that have died. Never put diseased leaves or dead roses in your compost pile.

 

4. Do identify any bushes that might need extra winter protection. Most of the newer shrubs and miniatures don’t need special care. If you aren’t sure whether a variety is tender or not, play it safe and add an 8-inch mound of soil, compost, leaf mold, or other organic material around the base of the bush. Check with an American Rose Society Consulting Rosarian in your area for additional advice and winter-protection tips.

 

'Dick Clark' was a new addition that rocked the garden 1n 2021
 

5. Finally, scour the catalogs when they arrive and start thinking about new plants you’d like to add to the garden next year. It’s a flight of fancy that will transport you away from the woes of winter.

 

Try growing a rose from seeds

One last thing -- if a hip forms on one of your favorite rose bushes, bring it indoors and harvest the seeds for planting over the winter months. (Although I said not to cut them, one or two won’t hurt!) It’s a fun project that could result in a unique rose. 

If you’d like to know how to do it, leave a comment and I'll do a whole posting on the topic.

 
No mums or pumpkins for me. I'm going to stop and smell the fall roses.

 

Friday, August 13, 2021 7 comments

Squirrels gone wild once again

 

My hapless toad

Back in 2016, I wrote a posting about some strange behavior our squirrels exhibited after I placed a feather in one of my pots on the deck.

I was recently reminded of this episode. A small stone toad resides year ‘round in my little veggie planter. The other day I placed the toad on the deck while I was refreshing some of the herbs.

Not long after, a squirrel cautiously approached the toad. It started fussing and lunging at it. Finally, it bit the stone toad on the nose, then ran off. I have no clue as to why the squirrel was so upset. (Fortunately, the toad was not harmed in the attack.)

So, in case you missed the original posting, here it is again. Let me know if you have any thoughts as to what squirrels have against amphibians (or feathers).

 Squirrels gone Wild (September 2016)

A spill in our creek led to strange events in our garden

 

On June 30, a water utility company that owns storage tanks up the stream from us had an accident.  One of the tanks overflowed sending 220,000 gallons of water and silt down Hogback Creek. 

Our neighbor who lives above us came to our door in tears. After years of making sure the creeks and streams on his property were as pristine as possible, his work was washed away. I will write more about this tragedy in my next posting.

Feeling sad and helpless, we offered to walk up there to take photographs to send environmental authorities. While documenting the devastation, I found something that unleashed several weeks of chaos in my own back yard.

The innocent feather briefly guarded my tomato plants
 

It seemed innocent enough – the wing feather of a wild turkey. I decided to place it in my little veggie planter on the back deck in hopes it would discourage squirrels from digging up my tomatoes and herbs so they could hide nuts.

The squirrels had other ideas.

Not long after I added the feather to the planter, I noticed it was missing.  Later, we saw it on the ground 20 feet below the deck. Perhaps it blew out of the planter, we reasoned.

The next time it was lying on rocks that slope down to the creek. I had to get a long rake to retrieve it.

The third time, the perpetrator not only threw the feather off the deck, the little devil also ate the left hand side of it.

Donna spied the feather and flew into a fury
 

Determined to beat the squirrels at their own game, I used a two-foot strand of covered wire to tie it to the railing. On numerous occasions I found it hanging from the wire over the edge of the deck floor. Each time more of the feather was missing.

Now a word about our squirrels. We don’t mind them visiting as long as they don’t get on the feeders. They quite often come to the back door and beg, or stand on the table to attract our attention.  They are well behaved, and we reward them with a few unsalted nuts.

Donna, one of our regulars, is about as mild mannered as a squirrel can be. Yet one afternoon Chris saw her attack the feather with such ferocity, he had to chase her off. She lunged at it, bit it and tried to rip it free from the wire.

Today, this is all that is left of that poor feather. We have no idea what the squirrels had against it.

But I definitely won’t be dressing as a turkey for Halloween.

 


 

 

 

 


 
;