Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Spring Bulb Fertilizing

Growing tips break ground
A hint of green on gray branches
Spring unfolding
~ Marie B. Rice, 1932-2011, Haiku

Spring has sprung here in the Pacific Northwest, er… well, actually a couple of weeks ago if you consider all the bulbs that have come up and the number of early daffodils blooming today. So for us this post is timely for the tulips, muscari and other later bulbs just emerging, not yet blooming. As for the rest of the U.S., this post will give you the info you need for the upcoming thaw, it's strong a little while longer, and be ready to fertilize your bulbs when they emerge in the warming days to come.

When organically fertilizing flowering bulbs the nutrient of choice is usually fish bone meal, but rock phosphate is an alternative choice for the vegan/vegetarian gardeners reading today.

Both are great sources of phosphate for encouraging blooms and root development but the success lies in the application. If you are accustomed to applying synthetic chemical fertilizers, you are used to just scattering the granules on the ground and leaving them to dissolve. Easy yes, but if you want to do more to better the earth, soil health and your own health you will consider transitioning your gardening to organic practices whenever possible.

This brings me to today's topic. Fertilizing your spring flowering bulbs organically. A recent walk through the neighborhood brought this post to mind. This gardener sprinkled bone meal around their bulbs and flowering plants.


The bone meal is a good thing, but leaving it in big blobs like that isn't. They left out one important step...working the fertilizer into the soil.

Organic fertilizers need to be broken down by the naturally occurring microbes in the soil. So as you sprinkle your bone meal or rock phosphate you will need to lightly scratch it in with a rake, lightly working it into the soil surface so most of it comes into contact with the soil and its billions and billions of microbes. Easy enough to do but it takes a few minutes more of your time.

Now the granules are surrounded by microbes so those little treasures can do their very important work of breaking down the bulb food and making it available to the roots.

The time to apply the bone meal for spring flowering bulbs is when the leaf tips are breaking ground. If you can see where the bulbs are, you can work around the tender green tips and not damage them.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Corylopsis veitchiana (winterhazel), Cyclamen coum (spring), Daffodils,Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Hellebore, Hyacinth ‘blue jacket’, Primrose (double English)

Author's photos

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Winter Fragrance

Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I can walk undisturbed.  ~Walt Whitman


It’s January, and winter is in full swing up here in the northern hemisphere. Which means every time I step out my back door I am greeted, nay assailed by the heady fragrance of my Sarcoccoa confusa bush. This evergreen delight is planted near my front door, but the scent wafts completely around the house on the air currents to perfume my back yard too. Follow this link to my previously published work for its particulars.

As I walk around my city’s neighborhoods I find it everywhere by following the fragrance as it ebbs and flows across my path. It is in full bloom now and will soon be followed by Daphne odora (Winter Daphne), then after that Skimmia japonica, all of which will keep you in a sweet-scented state of enchantment through March.

So here’s a heads up…if you live in the Pacific Northwest, get to your local nursery now. Sarcoccoa will be blooming and for sale, ready and waiting to be added to your garden.

Oh, and a BONUS! Hummingbirds sip of it's nectar daily and honey bees take full advantage of its pollen and nectar offerings when the temperatures are mild. I see both on mine.

In bloom in my garden today: Cyclamen coum (spring), Galanthus elwesii (snow drops), crocus, primrose, Sarcococca confusa, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), hellebore

Author’s photo

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Power of the Garden

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
~Rachel Carson

Gardens are places of refuge. Of inspiration. Of peace. Where dreams unfold. They are places where tears can be shed in safe privacy. They are places of solitude where one can be swept away to another world through a good book. Where restorative naps can be taken. They are places where one can simply be in the moment, not giving concern to past or future.

Gardeners are a people of hope. We sow the seed or plant the seedling fully expecting it to grow, bloom in some cases and always to thrive. Even those with a black thumb, you’ve met them…their gardens just seem to be more like plant cemeteries…even they surely didn’t expect the plant to die when they planted it or else they would be knowingly wasting their time. We plant with expectations for the garden’s future, our future and the good of its presence to come.

In my work this summer at the nursery I met so many people who came to make their part of the earth a better place; each with different reasons for wanting to garden.

Some came to create gardens of healing for themselves, either physical or emotional recovery. They gardened to keep their eyes on the good things to come, choosing not to focus on their current infirmities. More than one came following surgery, leaning on canes or using walkers, determined to plant, nurture and enjoy just as they’d always done before. Undeterred, even though their physical condition staunchly cried out “no”, still they came because they knew the healing that would take place in their minds, souls and bodies as they spent time in their garden.

Many elderly, now in wheelchairs, came having already spent decades creating gardens. With them came friends or relatives who would be doing the much of the work now, giving them the gift of their time, the benefit of their strength and the outcome of beauty and joy.

Some came to plant memory gardens for loved ones who had passed away. Many came to plant gardens for weddings planned just months ahead and one came to plant a faith garden in preparation for the wedding she prayed would one day take place for her daughter.

I coached people on what to use in bee friendly gardens, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, songbird gardens, container gardens, water gardens, dry gardens, shade gardens, gardens for tranquility, moon gardens, gardens for aromatherapy and gardens for food.

A garden reflects the gardener. That which drives you, is often indicative of the kind of garden you eventually create. Whether it’s the theme of the garden; those who wish to feed hummingbirds or honey bees show their compassionate heart for the creature, or the color scheme you create; colors you are drawn to that gives you away. Do you love the hot colors, those that excite like the reds and oranges of the tropical gardens? Or did your garden end up full of the purples, blues and soft buttery yellows of tranquility like mine did. I didn’t plan it, I’m just drawn to plants with blooms of those colors. They are restful, and today they fill my garden.

Gardens everywhere provide well-being in one way or another, whether by therapy for the soul or nourishing food for the body.

Why do you garden?

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

Author's photo of the Japanese Garden at the Washington Arboretum

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Collards - A New Favorite

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.” ~Siddhartha Gautamav

First and foremost I want to thank all of you who still have my blog feed coming to you. I’ve been absent for many months and so appreciate you for hanging in there, waiting for me to get my stuff together and resume writing. Thank you so much.

It has been an interesting year since my last post; filled with sorrow and emotional soul searching while settling dad’s estate and clearing my parents’ house to prepare it for sale. However, peppered amongst all that was much joy and new beginnings for me.

I went back to work, this time at a nursery, doing what I love most…working with plants, helping people with their gardens and spending lots of time with people who love gardening like me. Thus far it’s the most rewarding job I think I’ve ever had.

In late August, one of my customers came in specifically to buy collard seeds. I remembered her as I’d helped her a few times throughout the summer but hadn’t really got to know who she is as a gardener. Turns out she is a weight trainer, and we got to talking about growing greens for a healthy diet. I’d sold lots of collard plant starts in the spring and knew it was very popular in Southern USA cooking. Now, I love greens… kale, beets, mustards, chard, etc but many greens contain oxalic acid which is fine for some folks but not for those concerned with calcium issues. I had never eaten collard greens nor paid much attention to them. So as she was extolling all the virtues of collard greens I asked her if she knew if it was high or low in oxalic acid. She didn’t know so I made a mental note to do research on it when I got home. Then she gave me one tidbit that sold me on growing collards myself. That it grows all winter in our climate, which means you can have fresh greens all winter and even snowfall doesn’t faze it. She said you simply knock off the snow, pick the leaves and cook them up. Wow, I want to grow some of that! I did some research and found them to be low in oxalic acid. Then I bought a bunch from my green grocer to try them. Yum! So I bought some seeds and got a few starts going. Today I have about 8 plants in various sunny places around the perennial garden to see which locations are best. 

Collards are cool weather plants. They are best grown in spring and fall, like spinach and some kales. I say some kales because I grew a new (new to me) variety of kale this year that wasn’t fazed by hot days in the 90’s F (32+C). But that’s fodder for another post. Today we’re talking collards. Collards can grow between 40-75F (5-23C) with optimum growing temps of 60-65F (16-19C) degrees, and as with many fall weather crops they taste sweeter after a frost. They are packed full of vitamins and minerals and rich in carotenoids. Naturally, as with many greens, they are high in vitamin K so if you have blood disorders they may not be right for you.

Collards are from the Brassica family therefore the cabbage moth is something to guard against. The minute mine were in the ground that little white rascal of a moth was flitting around laying her eggs on the undersides of the leaves. We still had warm, sunny days at planting time and the moths were persistent, so I mixed up some BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) in my 1 gallon sprayer. BT is an organic pesticide that is used to kill leaf eating larvae and caterpillars. It degrades in the sunlight so spray it in the evening hours and re-apply every few days or once weekly, depending on your level of pest control needed. That’s why I mix it up in a gallon sprayer. I just keep it mixed and use the gallon over a period of several weeks. It makes it easy to do a quick spray when I get home from work or after dinner. Frankly the cabbage moths were making a mess of my kale too so every few days I’d spray the whole lot, concentrating on the underneath of the leaves.  And I’ll say this about the collards…the cabbage moths seemed to like the kale more than the collards. Way more egg laying going on with the kale. Now that the weather has turned cold and wet, the moths are gone, so the spray isn’t needed any more.

Fertilize with a high nitrogen fertilizer like seaweed extract organic liquid or a fish fertilizer since it’s the leaves you want and not flowers. I’m excited to see the plants getting bigger. And it is interesting to see which locations are growing bigger plants. Do you ever do that? Plant veggies in more than one location throughout your perennial garden areas? I’ve often done that when my veggie space fills up and am surprised to see some grow better where I least expected them to.

As far as cooking collards, I’ve seen many recipes and only a few ways to cook them. Thus far I have only chopped the de-stemmed leaves and sautéed them in olive oil and spices, just like I do kale greens. Quite delicious I must say. The flavor is hard to describe but for sure nothing like kale. Collard greens have an earthy flavor to me.

Our winter is forecasted to be warmer and drier than normal so I may not get the fun of knocking off the snow before I harvest them but I can’t wait to cook my fresh winter harvest.

Since I’m new to this beautiful green I’d love any and all thoughts on cooking and even your favorite recipe if you care to share.

Thanks ever so much for reading!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop),
Alyssum, Cyclamen hederifolium (fall),Daisy(white double,) Daphne caucasica, Echinacea, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed),
Fuchsia, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Kirengeshoma palmata, Nepeta, Rose, old English ‘reine des violettes’, Salvia

Author’s photo

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Season of Transition

Childhood scenes rushed back at me out of the night, strangely close and urgent. Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.
~Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place p. 31

My dad was my beekeeping partner. Our beekeeping days are over. His body let go of his life on earth on Valentine’s Day.

Make no mistake, caregiving for a loved one is a heavy load to bear for both the giver and the receiver, and because of our group effort my sisters and I managed to keep dad in his own home to the end. I’ll not be the one to write the how-to book on making the journey a happy success, but I can say it’s a season of learning and growing in ways that will either make you or break you. It’s a time of running open-armed toward your beloved parent to help with all your heart and yet also a time (more often than I care to admit) when you look up at God with tears streaming down your face, stamping your foot, fists clenched by your side and yelling “No, no, no! It’s too hard God, I can’t do this anymore! Whatever made you think I could?” Then, just like after all moments like that I hear His quiet, soft voice “Be still and know that I am with you.” It’s a total immersion system of learning, overwhelming to say the least, yet a blessing to say the most.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is no higher calling than that of service to another. And that there may be no calling more difficult. I am coming off 10 years of answering such a calling. I have battle scars. I have amazingly joyful memories of laughter and shared jokes. I have sad memories of impatience and frustration bubbling up from deep within both dad and me.  I have stretch marks on my soul as I’ve been taken beyond my comfort zone time and again. I have grayer hair, longer laugh lines and deeper worry creases than I would have had I not stumbled down this path with both of my parents. I am blessed to have had the dad I had and the opportunities to be a blessing to him. I think that while my mental and physical commitment to be there for my dad in his old age is over, the lessons I will learn are still on the horizon waiting to dawn with new understanding when the time is right to reflect.

I was having some tearful moments as my sisters and I were arranging the funeral services for dad and I was feeling so very…oh I don’t know, just really missing his presence. We were in his house and I had my mini laptop with me. We were using it to write out his obituary. As we paused to discuss other things, it sat unused for a few minutes so the screen had gone black. When I picked it up again the screen came alive with a picture of dad on his riding lawnmower. A FULL screen photo. It was the same shot of him I used in his last Christmas letter to friends and family. In it he is riding away with his back toward me. I was so stunned. Then it flashed off after about 3 seconds. It wouldn’t came back up. I never downloaded that photo or any other photos to that computer, I just use it for written documents. I wrote the Christmas letter on my larger laptop where we have a photo program.

Later that night as I was transferring documents from my mini computer to a larger one so I could email the obituary information we’d written that day, after a period of idle the mini went to sleep. Then it happened again.  When I went to shut it down, a different photo of my dad flashed on the screen for a split second. It was a photo of him smiling directly at me, which I took at Christmas a year ago. Again the image filled the entire screen. No edges, no borders.

This business with photos flashing on the screen has NEVER happened before. I decided to do a little investigating on this computer, wanting and yet not wanting, to make some sense of it. It didn’t come with a photo program, and I never downloaded photos onto it but after looking I found some in a folder. I periodically send documents from this computer to a flash drive so I can put them on my larger computer and visa-versa. I can only surmise that it is during some of those transferring of docs via the flash-drive that maybe a dozen or so photos loaded inadvertently onto the mini computer, but then I’m not a tech-wiz.

There are other photos, not all of dad, in this rogue folder. A few of other family members, a dog, and clock parts from when we were working on his clock repair projects and we didn’t want to forget how to put the thing back together again. But only the photos of dad are flashing on the screen for a second or two, never any of the others. In my heart I know I need surmise no more. Whatever the technical explanation I know the true reason behind it. The photos appearing were simply gifts of God, given through the opportunity of that moment, my computer screen. The photos brought dad’s very real presence and comfort to me when I needed it the most on that difficult day. If you are a regular reader of my blog you may remember the post Garden of Memories, in which I also tell of holy gifts of comfort for me from God and mom surrounding her sudden death.

Days later we once again made the 3 hour drive across the mountains to the cemetery my parents chose as their place of burial. The last time I was there was to put roses on my mother’s grave. It was a tense drive over the mountain pass as a lot of snow had fallen just in the days before. Thankfully, as we wound our way down from the summit, the weather gave way to a sunny February day. Just as my parents wanted, we planned another simple, quiet, family, graveside service. I was surprised how calm and almost warm the weather was for us in those moments. It was February in Eastern Washington after all. The pastor spoke, then a few of us spoke as to dad’s life, memories, accomplishments and kindnesses to others and the service concluded. I stood by his casket, touching the smooth wood, pulling out a rose from the casket spray to take home with me then touching the other flowers. I wasn’t even conscious of people around me, it was just me and dad in that moment. As I was talking to him, one last good bye, just thinking and remembering, a stiff, cold, persistent wind rose up and blew from behind my back, pushing me. It was as if dad was saying, “Ok, it’s done, get on with your life. Go on, go home.” The wind didn’t let up and cleared those away quickly who had gathered to honor dad. He wasn’t really one to dither or linger unnecessarily. We did have to get on with a small family meal then get back over the mountain before darkness made it more difficult. The next day, two feet of snow fell up there and they closed the pass intermittently for avalanche control. God indeed did give us a window of sunshine and safety for such a sad day.

Today I look out at my February garden. It’s raining. Cold. A few crocus and snowdrops are blooming; hellebores too are lifting their blooms in defiance, not willing to be deterred by gray, wet days. One wee viola peeks up from within its leafy blanket and the tender bright green leaves of Clematis unfold, vulnerable yet undeterred. Heath offers its nectar to bees who won’t find it because it’s too cold for them to fly. Winter ebbs and flows in these weeks of transition toward spring, yielding to a mild day here then a cold day there, yet not willing to let go. Garden renewal has begun its process forward and won’t be stopped, but merely slowed if an Arctic Blast follows on the heels of a few balmy days. I contemplate what’s next for me. I’ll look for employment, one of the many things I let go of in my own life to be better able to help him in his. Will I do bees again this year? I’m kinda weary. Maybe I’ll wait till next year with bees, if ever. I wonder if dad’s colony is still alive and if so will I bring them here to my garden or give them to one of his beekeeping friends? I wonder if beekeeping will ever be the same for me as it was when we had it together. This too is a time of ebbing and flowing for me as I regroup and plan my next steps. I feel dad urging me to get on with my life, don’t linger or dither, move forward.

It occurs to me my grieving process is much like spring in the garden. A time of transition, in which there is much ebbing and flowing. Cold and dark giving way to warmth and light then back again. Progress toward joy on the horizon, yet returning to tears and melancholy when I least expect it. A confusion of emotions, what if’s and needs giving way at times to bright moments of clarity and strongly rooted determination. Renewal. And all the while God is there, holding me up, giving encouragement, letting me find my way without ever leaving my side. Growing me past my comfort zone, giving me the strength to pick myself up, dust myself off and start all over again with His ever-present whisper “Be Still”.

And I smile. As I resume to edit this post, the sleeping mini computer awakens and there again dad on his mower flashed for less than a brief second across the screen.
This time not a full screen shot but smaller, and a briefer span of time. It’s almost as if he’s fading from me. I’m not really ready for that yet. It’s only been a week. Perhaps I really am healing and letting go.
I love you Dad.


In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Viola, Hellebore, Heath (Erica carnea ‘springwood white’), Cyclamen coum

Authors photo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Another Garden Companion

In your life’s defining moments there are two choices – you either step forward in faith and power or you step backward into fear.
~James Arthur Ray.

If you had asked me a year ago I’d have said “Never. Another cat with our Miss? Never!” Our current feline companion, Miss, was VERY territorial and quite the scrappy little street fighter when it came to furry neighborhood relationships. She’s been known to jump on a dog’s head that had the temerity to get too close! Visits to the emergency vet clinics, stitches, staples, oozing abscesses...oh yea, we've had them all with her.

She’s adorable and quite loveable when it suits her. A most welcome addition to our family but she didn’t come without some emotional baggage of her own. She desperately needs love (who doesn’t) but prefers to be aloof and often pretends she’s uninterested in getting it. And she’s definitely best suited to a one cat family.

Miss came to us from neighboring friends 6 years ago. Simply unwilling to live there she would come to our garden daily to see what we were doing or just to lounge quietly in the sun. We did what we could to help our friends with her attitude about their lodgings but to no avail. When awakened at 2 am as she stood outside our opened, upstairs bedroom window meowing, we knew then we were in trouble. She had made her choice…she’d live with us someday. It seems we attract strays somehow. And that’s not a bad thing in my opinion. I think I’ve always been in favor of the underdog, er…undercat as the case may be. Most of our four legged companions have come via their own wanderings.

Zeke is our latest addition but he didn’t come to us. We went to him. He lived across the street for several years. We knew him by sight but not whether he was a he or a she. As a matter of fact, I can remember chasing out of our garden on a few occasions. With Miss’ preference for a super-sized bubble of personal space and willing to fight for it, we didn’t need another nemesis coming around. Sadly, his people died last year and family members left him to fend for himself. He just stayed there on the porch. Waiting. Quite alone. A few of us in the surrounding houses started feeding him and gave him fresh water daily. No one knew if he had a name. I called him Zoe, not knowing he wasn’t a she at the time. I hadn’t been able to get close enough to him to see if he was a Zoe or not. He was mistrustful of anyone and was quick to run as I approached. Finally I saw he was not a Zoe. What should we call him? Hubby suggested Zeke. Zeke it is. Zeke has issues. Don’t we all? By his reactions, sadly I suspect abuse in his early life. Oh, but he’s a charmer, a sweet lovable guy very much in need of human companionship. Charismatic if you will, the way he tilts his head when he looks at you or the way the white patch on his chest waddles as he runs to us or the way his lip get hooked up over his tooth and he just stares at you as if to say “what are you laughing at?”. He’s welcome and most definitely wanted by the humans in our family.

But integrating him into the family won’t be without complications. Not only getting past his deep fears but also one by the name of Miss. As mentioned she had issues too. I wonder if she can put aside her jealousy and see that Zeke is in need of a safe place just like she was all those years ago.  While she’s been reluctant, oddly I think she does understand. She mellows when we have those chats.

On the other hand Zeke needs to accept her too. She was here first and we want to maintain her standing as Alpha cat. But he’s a scrapper also. Over the months it has not gone as we would have liked. At first he was all meek and mild, then as he got more comfortable he got aggressive. For every step forward toward progress with these two, we have had 3 steps back to the beginning.  There have been fights, tumbles, hissing and vying for territory within the house and garden. There have been hurt feline feelings and aggressive brawls. It has taken time, too much time for my liking. Nor has progress been made toward two cats living in the same house. We don’t prefer leaving the cats out as cars, dogs, and wildlife are just too dangerous for that. We much prefer to keep them indoors but when you adopt you have to work with what you get. It took several years for Miss to be happy with more time spent inside than out. Zeke is more of a challenge, I doubt he was ever allowed indoors so it’s is frightening to him. Winter was coming and he wasn’t bout to be come comfortable indoors enough to sleep nights inside nor days when we are at work. Once inside you can just see his anxiety level rise. Once let out again, he calms considerably. If our cats could have their druthers the back door to the garden would always be left open.

Open doors are great for warm summers but its winter now. No can do, so I bought a heated outdoor pad made specifically for animals and made him a nice shelter, much like a dog house. I used some unused beehive equipment and put it under the potting bench somewhat protected from the wind and rain. It took several design revisions before I got the right combination of bee boxes and location that suited his fearful nature. With all earlier attempts he would only stay in it for a little while and not at night. Seems he preferred his under bushes or some other burrow for his bed where he had a good view of his surroundings and a quick escape plan. At first I made the box with only one door, which turned out to be the problem. His fear of being enclosed made it too frightening. So I cut another opening on the side for escape and more visibility. He needs to be able to see what’s going on from several angles and have more than one way of escape, depending on from where the danger is approaching.  Such fear. Its so sad.

Things turned around nicely after I cut the second opening. He started really using the ‘spa’ as we call it now, since it’s heated and padded with fleecy material. Now he’s in it most of the day every day and nearly every night. It’s a rare night that he stays somewhere else, and we still don’t know where. Now that I’ve hit on a design that he can be comfortable with I will be painting it all the same color. He has also learned our schedules. He’s always at our backdoor for breakfast and dinner. This is all real progress and its been just short of a year.

And this is how it is today with the two of them. Wary tolerance from a distance. Oh well, all in all not too bad considering.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Crocus, Cyclamen coum, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), Heath (Erica carnea 'springwood white'), Hellebore, Sarcococca confusa

Author’s photos

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book Review - Flower Confidential

Where have our desires led us? Are we, in fact, gilding the lily?
~Amy Stewart
We want a cut flower to be perfect, unique, extraordinary, fragrant, long lasting and inexpensive don’t we? But all those demands are the reason most store bought cut flowers have no fragrance. In the breeding efforts to get sturdiness suitable for freight handling and a long vase life, flowers fragrance and delicacy has been lost.

Amy Stewart's book, Flower Confidential is a fascinating look into the very real, at times ugly industry that provides us with the beauty of cut flowers for our homes. Travelling with the cut flower from greenhouse to retailer, it is an exposé of the sordid realities of the industry.  In it she tells us how flowers are being created in laboratories, bred in test tubes, grown in factories, machine harvested and packed, auctioned, sold and transported by air across oceans and continents. Stewart also details histories of growers, both domestic and international, their relationships to each other, histories of hybridizing, plant profiles and genetic plant facts, the Dutch Auction and much more.

Sadly for us, 80% of all cut flowers purchased in the USA are imported, grown by many countries using chemicals banned for use in the US and heavy chemical use of fungicide dips after the flowers have been harvested but before they get packed for shipment. Growers are highly motivated to keep shipments from being rejected due to pests or disease so they use what ever chemical it takes to ship a ‘clean’ product. Since this is not an edible product, little attention is paid from this end of the line as to what chemicals are being used. Stewart notes that California grown flowers do have less chemical residue than those grown in Latin American countries.

Next to the hazardous chemical issue is the fact that many countries are growing and shipping flowers that are handled by workers not paid by fair wage practices nor are they properly protected from the daily chemical use. Stewart brings light to the fact that many of the policies are exploitive, using child labor and women report rampant sexual harassment.

Stewart goes on to outline a little known dilemma of whose flowers to buy. Ecuadorian roses are priced low that keeps buyers going back to Ecuador. Buying from them supports local jobs, keeping families together but comes with low wages. Ecuador’s flower industry provides jobs for both men and women which empowers women in an abusive industry but also uses child labor. Without the flower industry many Ecuadorians, Kenyans, and those from many other nations across the equator would not have much hope of making an independent, steady living.

On the other hand American grown roses encourages migrant labor which separates the Mexican worker from family who are left behind in Mexico and may contribute to our illegal border crossing problem. All this because we want low prices for cut flowers.

Much of the coffee, chocolate, and hand goods industries have already implemented fair trade certification programs as an industry standard. What about the cut flower industry? Stewart's research shows that while the US has been slow to jump on the bandwagon, much of Europe has already implemented certifiable standards for social and environmental responsibly grown flowers. In the US, Veriflora and a few others are making efforts to make that a standard here. She mentions Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s as two outlets that have made the commitment to buy flowers certified by green labeling programs. A green label certification may include:

  • Least toxic chemicals chosen for use
  • Less overall chemicals use
  • Healthier work environment for workers
  • Less crowded growing conditions for the plants whereby improving the plants overall strength, which helps the plant to resist diseases and pests on it’s own
  • Better working conditions and wages for the workers
  • In some cases higher price to the consumer
Sad? A little depressing? Certainly not visions of Miss Marple lovingly tending and cutting roses from her bushes to sell from a little cart in front of her cottage. Today’s cut flowers are a commodity market in which they are forced into unnatural growing conditions and packed and shipped for market quickly so you can pay as little as possible.

Overall a very informative book, difficult to put down. I must say I am a tad disillusioned after reading it but definitely better informed and appreciative of knowing more of the reality of what goes into the cut flowers I buy. I will think twice now about chemical residues as I handle store bought cut flowers, knowing that they have likely been chemically sprayed and dipped several times over their growing life and on the production line. And if they are from Peru, they have been fumigated at the Miami Int'l Airport before they will be allowed in. Since this is a blog for organic gardening, as a side note I'll include another unsettling fact Stewart uncovered. According to Miami Int'l Airport's cargo division's marketing specialist, "asparagus from Peru is fumigated as a matter of course", yep even if it was grown for the organic market. By the time it reaches your organic store and is labeled as organic, it's been fumigated in Miami if it comes from Peru.

Armed with this new information, the next time I went to Trader Joe’s I looked at their cut flowers. Sure enough, the protective, plastic wrap is stamped not only with the Trader Joe’s logo but also Veriflora

and Rainforest Alliance certifications.
Boy, I sure did feel better about buying and handling (without gloves) these lovely lime green chrysanthemums.
There is so much more to her book than what I've mentioned here.
Do you buy flowers from your local grocer or florist? If so I hope you find this review informative and I highly recommend reading Flower Confidential. Please note, this book may be titled Gilding the Lily for the European market.

In Bloom in My Garden Today: Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Canna, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, crocus, Cyclamen hederifolium), Shasta Daisy(white double) Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Eupatorium rugosum ‘chocolate’ (joe pye weed), Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Hosta, Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Lavender, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rhododendron, Rose, Salvia

Author’s photos

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Apiary Update

For bees, the flower is the fountain of life. For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love.
~Kahlil Gibran
I am sad to report that my bees have all died this year. We did our utmost to keep the hive alive this spring. I could see that it was failing and that the queen had disappeared so we inserted a few frames with new eggs and some brood from a strong hive so they could make their own queen, which they did, but within a few months it had completely died. Not sure why but such is the way of beekeeping in these difficult and troubling times for the bees.

Happily there are several beekeepers within blocks of my urban home and their bees are going to town these sunny days on my Silver Vein Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana), packing full the pollen sacks on their legs.

I planted this vine years ago to camouflage an otherwise boring fence and I’ve been so happy with it. It grows to 10 feet long (3 meters) so it nicely covers a 6 foot (1.8m) fence, draping gracefully over the other side as seen above.

The leaves are a silver-veined green turning a lovely apricot in the fall. A perfect backdrop to the fall blooming and fragrant Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera). While in the photo above the background of these leaves is in fuzzy focus, you can get an idea of the colors.

The vine's flowers are considered ‘insignificant’ in the gardening world, which just means they are so small they are hardly visible, but for the bees they pack a wallop in the pollen department. In the above photo is an opened flower, pollen exposed. Below you can see the vines are covered with flower buds, just a tad bigger than a pinhead.

This is neither a messy vine nor a thug by any means. It is deciduous, so the leaves drop off for the winter, making great mulch and providing easy access to the vines to prune and control as you please in late winter, early spring. This is when I thin it out and corral its growth. It can take sun to part shade and is hardy to USDA zone 4. It is self attaching, meaning it puts out little tendrils which find a flat surface then stick to it with little round pads, like frogs ‘toes’, if you will. These tendrils will also curl around a wire support if you choose to use a trellis.

Overall a very easy and versatile vine. I highly recommend it, especially for the bees!

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Perovskia ‘little spire’, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tomato

Authors photos

Monday, September 9, 2013

Junipers - What's Not to Love?

A gardener learns more in the mistakes than in the successes.
~Barbara Dodge Borland, 1904-1991, American author

Actually there’s a lot not to love about Junipers in my opinion but then I had an unpleasant domestic relationship with them years ago and still shudder at the remembrance.
Junipers can grow in a wide variety of situations and locations. This is not the reason to plant one. They can also be indestructible. This is not a reason to plant one either.

With all due respect…..Junipers are not meant to be planted at sidewalks

or next to stairs where you have to carve out a corridor.

or at the edge of lawns.

Junipers are not meant to be hedging material, carved into hard blocks...

or soft undulating waves. If you have to prune any plant this severely in order to keep it within boundaries then you have the wrong plant in that spot.

Junipers need room to spread and breathe...

allowing them to take on their natural sprawling habit with graceful branches reaching luxuriously in freedom.
All of the above can be applied to Heathers and Heaths too.
Exposed, woody stems due to over pruning is just plain ugly.
Now that’s what I’m talking about! No ugly stems showing, just a blooming delight! Gorgeous.

The moral of the story is…if you are going to plant something, always choose the right plant for the right place and you will be rewarded with beauty and less work.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Alyssum, Begonia ‘bonfire’, Caryopteris ‘longwood blue’ (bluebeard), Cimicifuga simplex ‘brunette’, Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’, Cyclamen, Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica ‘Eternal Fragrance’, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Gladiolus callianthus (formerly Acidanthera), Kirengeshoma palmata, Kniphofia ‘echo mango’Mullen chaixii ‘Album’, Nepeta ‘six hills giant’ (catmint), Perovskia ‘little spire’, Phygelius ‘new sensation’ (cape fushia), Rose, Salvia, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Tomato
Authors photos

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tagro - Organic By Who's Standard?

Be the change you want to see in the world.
~Mahatma Gandhi

Often people ask me if I use Tagro. My short, politically correct answer is ‘No, it’s not organic’.  What I would really like to say is ‘I wouldn’t touch that stuff with a 100 foot pole.” Even better, I love it when people press me further as to why I won’t use it so I can extol the virtues of organic gardening to yet another person wanting to care for their little part of the earth. 

Tagro is the municipality’s solid waste division’s solution on what to do with human waste.   Some communities call it ‘sludge’ and residents fight to keep the counties from spraying a liquefied version into the forests and woodlands.  The city mixes it with sawdust and sand to give it a crumbly, compost like texture so it looks kind of like compost.  The city then advertises it with lots of tax paid advertising as a “Natural Yard Care” alternative to be used to amend your soil or raked across your lawn instead of fertilizers or natural compost.  Does your community have such a product?

The city touts it to be organic.  Understand there is more than one definition of organic.  Webster’s dictionary has several definitions of organic, two of which are “1. as relating to, or arising in a bodily organ; 2. derived from living things” which is how Tagro can claim a semblance of organic status.  Agricultural practices define organic as “a production system which avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.  To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks, and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients, and to control insects, weeds and other pests”.  Research shows organic practices result in regeneration of renewable resources in the soil whereas chemical practices result in dead soil, incapable of feeding plant life without further chemical replenishment because the chemicals kill the living biology of the soil.

In reality, Tagro, sludge and its counterparts are all comprised of chemically treated human waste.  Organic only by a dictionary definition, not mine and certainly not the definition of healthy soil practices. Tagro has the most foul, sour acrid odor which I can smell blocks away if I have the misfortune to be down wind.  It smells nothing like the sweet, earthy smell of real compost or even composted steer manure.  Nor does it have the nutritive value or the tilth building qualities of real compost or composted steer manure. 

What it does do is give a huge shot of nitrogen to what ever it touches, so if you rake it across your lawn you must mow your lawn twice a week to keep up with the out-of-control growth. I use a mulching mower which gives a nice shot of natural nitrogen to my lawn which I only have to mow once a week during Spring’s growth spurt.  Spring grass is naturally high in nitrogen so leaving the mulched (more finely chopped than regular mower blades chop) clippings on your lawn to decompose is all the fertilizer it needs.

Because Tagro is chemically treated human waste (along with everything else that gets flushed down the commode) I believe it also kills the living organisms in your soil, and the worms.  Dead soil can’t support plant life so you have to buy and use a lot more fertilizer or Tagro. I want living soil microbes and worms in my garden soil. Living soil is what supports plant life, which supports bug life, which supports avian life and on it goes.

Recently I’ve seen Tagro’s potting soil mix experimented with in greenhouse growing operations. In pots it is very heavy in structure, not giving the plant’s roots a good air/water mix for healthy root growth. Also it is physically heavier so lifting pots is more difficult. More importantly the plants growth was stunted and the leaf’s color was off and splotchy. After planting with it for an hour, one of the staff (that would be me) complained of headache. All in all it got a bad report from the commercial growers.

If you want to support your community and utilize its in-house programs, better alternatives are Zoo Doo manure programs and community supported composting businesses. My city collects garden waste and it goes to a business that composts it, then sells it to consumers by the bag or truckload. It is always certified organic. The nearby Zoo Doo program is so popular with gardeners they always sell out quickly every spring. If your local zoo doesn’t have this program perhaps they’d be interested in your suggestion in their inbox.

There are so many healthy ways to organically amend your garden soil. Tagro should never be an option.

In Bloom in My Garden Today:  Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop), Alyssum,Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’, Begonia ‘bonfire’,Borage,Coreopsis ‘moonbeam’,Daisy(white double), Daphne caucasica, Echinacea pallida,Echinacea purpurea magnus, Fuchsia, Gaillardia (blanket flower), Geranium ‘mavis simpson’, Geum, Gladiolus ‘Boone’ (heirloom 1920’s), Green Beans, Lavender, Lobelia, Nepeta, Oregano, Perovskia ‘little spire’, Salvia, Scheherazade oriental lily, Sedum, Star Jasmine (trachelospermum jasminoides), Thyme ‘foxley’, Zucchini, Tomato

Author’s  photo