The Story of Black-eyed Sue

By Anne Garde & Alan Okagaki,  National Public Radio – 1986

black-eyed-susan-1344895368GENI rose early, at four o-clock, the morning glory still iris away. I was worried. Anemone of mine, Johnny Jump Up, was looking for me, and I’d heard he was carrying a pistil, a 357 magnolia. Iironed a periwinkle blouse, got dressed, and took a sprig of a dusty Miller’s beer. Johnny Jump Up was one of several rhizomes who’d gone to seed in Forsythia, Montana. He was convicted of graft in 1984, arrested again in ’85 for digging up coreopsis. Johnny then drifted on the wind up to my neighborhood, the corner of Hollyhock & Vine. He was a petal pusher in a phloxhouse nearby.

I knew he was trouble when he rode-a-dendron to my house and said, “Hey, little Black-Eyed Susan, wanna come over to my place and take a look at my vetches?” I didn’t want to tell him in all the cosmos, there was no one for me but Sweet William, so I said no, I was taking care of a pet dogwood that had a litter of poppies, which was weird cause she was just spade. Johnny had no sense of humus. He stamped his foot with impatiens.

“You’ll rue the day you turned me down,” he snapped. Then he spit a wad of salvia into the petunia on my portulaca and stalked away. “Forget me not, Sue, cause I’ll be zinnia.”

Ever since then, he’d cultivated a relationship with Lily of the Valley, a self-sowing biennial. One day, I aster what she seed in him. “Mum’s the word on this” she said, “He’s got a trillium dollars in the bank.”

“A trillium?” I snorted. “He’s lime to you. Besides, what about love?”

“Alyssum,” Lily said. “You bleeding hearts are all alike. Kid, you can go for a guy who’ll azalea with affection, orchid you can be like me and try to marigold”.

“Now begonia.”

I was in my kitchen, mullein over these past events. It was thyme to quit dilly-dahliaing. The calendula read August 3rd, and Johnny had sworn to propagate vengeance before the snowdrop. I hopped into my autolobelia and drove over to Daisy’s for help. Daisy was a pretty little transplant from Florida, who had wilted in the humidity there, but was now rooted in the well-drained soil of Bloom County.

Daisy mostly took care of her baby’s breath, but lately she had branched out and was columbining work with home life. “We’re all sick today, I think it’s gaillardia. Even the cat has got harebells. If we could take a knapweed be o.k.” Daisy’s face was blight yellow. She would not be of any help.

I beetled feet over to Sweet William’s garden plot. “Will, am I gladiolus to see you.” “Black Eyed Sue, I’ve been praying mantis see you. Let’s lilac in the snow on the mountain before it all melts down the geranium. Let’s ride a sage to Tansynia. It’s only a chamomile away.”

“Don’t be fritillary, honeysuckle,” I said, clinging to him. “Look, here comes the clematis of the story.” Oh, oh. Johnny had hired Pete Moss, a bearded iris-man to do me in. He was wearing a blue nectar and larkspurs. He had a larva men with him. The pests! They began to charge. In all the confuchsia, I said to Will, “Stem still and give me some ground cover.” I ran down the primrose path in my lady slippers, right towards Pete. “Don’t gimme any flax, bud, or I’ll slug ya. You’ll look dandelion in the alley. “Don’t gimme any flax, bud,” Pete quoted me verbena. It nettled me. I clovered him with a 2X4.

“Sound the timpansy,” we sang “We won.” Pete moaned, “Curses, foliaged again. I noticed Johnny Jump Up planted on the border. I’ve sunk pretty loam, Sue, but now I’m be turning over a new leaf.”

“Bouquet,” I said. And he did. Will & I lived pearly everlasting.


Showers of Blessings – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

downloadPouring rain. I peered out the small window to see the ominous clouds, thunder, lightening and a small lake quickly forming in front of the building I had found as a shelter from the storm. Safe. The ground was already saturated from an overnight rain of an inch or so only two days earlier, and several days of stormy weather the week before. It was the middle of July, usually the driest month of the year. But this year it proved to be the wettest July ever on record. I was at a large outdoor event when the rains came and I found myself peering out that window. Several others had gathered with me, some friends, some strangers. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon and families of all ages were caught somewhat unexpectedly by the fast moving storm. Most made it inside before the drenching rains began so that they could wait it out. In my mind, all could think was, “Enough, already! When’s this rain going to end?” I recalled a friend telling me how her basement flooded. Another told me of how his garden was beneath four inches of water a few days earlier, and I thought about how this dousing rain might be the final blow. I was more fortunate since I lived on higher ground, but still couldn’t escape the wrath of the rain. Everything had flopped over. Slugs were seeking and destroying. Powdery mildew reigned. Tomatoes were rotting on the vine. Weeds were taking over. And the mosquitoes! Need I say more?

It’s hard to make sense of it sometimes. Storms often put a damper on our plans and our parties, as was the case with the event I was at. Where only a half hour earlier I saw crowds of laughing and singing people, now there were huge puddles and a sea of scattered lawn chairs tossed around by the fierce winds. The people inside along with me waited impatiently, talking on their cell phones or trying to sit clumsily on the floor as they tried to get comfortable. Needless to say, there was an air of disappointment. That was, until I looked out the window again. I could barely believe my eyes. A group of teenagers had gathered, running through puddles, laughing hysterically as they tried to battle the piercing wind and rain. Though there wasn’t any audible music aside from the heavenly rumbles, they danced to a melody that seemed to spring up from within them. They splashed around like carefree ducks in a pond, drenched from head to toe, arms outstretched and faces pointed towards the sky. Suddenly my high and dry surroundings didn’t seem like a safe haven any more, seeing their freedom and joy compared to the sullen faces surrounding me. Where I once felt sheltered, I now felt captive. I contemplated for a moment, “Should I go? Do I dare?” I brushed off the silly notion and stayed inside along with all my newfound companions, choosing to remain every bit as ill-tempered as them.

funny-life-sayings-quotes-15I regret not dashing out the door to frolic in the rain that day. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have experienced a joy far greater than those who hid inside. But fear kept me from going. Not just fear of getting wet or even fear of the danger. But more so, it was the fear of wondering what people would think of a forty-something year-old woman trying to do the slip-n-slide through a 6″ deep river that had formed nearby. Staying inside was dry. Staying inside was expected. Staying inside was … safe.

I wonder how often we see the storms of life as curses instead of blessings. We find it hard to see the good in something that has the potential to cause so much damage. Yet often, I believe we purposely hide ourselves away from the storms of life and try to protect our souls from the blessings that can be showered upon us in the midst of it. We peer through the window; catching glimpses of what it could be like on the other side if only we’d put aside our fears and reservations. We keep up appearances so those around us, who may be equally as miserable, don’t think of us as imprudent or childish. We choose to remain ill-tempered. Rains come. Winds blow. The storms of life are inevitable. Will we stay safe? Or will we take the risk to experience life in all its unpredictability, yet all its fullness. I hope to have enough courage the next time a storm comes, if that be from the weather or life. Will you join me? Step away from the window. Walk through the door. Stretch open your arms. And dance.

Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer 

Life Lessons from the Garden: The Secret Ingredient

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

My mom is originally from Germany and still retains her thick German accent despite being in the United States for more than fifty years now. She has a rich heritage of living through World War II, coming to America through Ellis Island, and countless stories. My mother is strong, both physically and in character, with a quick wit, hilarious sense of humor and unending energy. I hope to be as vibrant as she is when I’m 81. Truth be told, I sometimes wish I were as vibrant today. My mom and I are both passionate about gardening. We share many joys as it relates to flowers and other greenery in our yards, but also many frustrations. The greatest frustration is what she affectionately calls “varmints.” Squirrels, rabbits, deer, chipmunks, etc. these are the types of creatures that can destroy a garden. We both like to be environmentally conscious in our gardens, trying to avoid lots of chemicals or inhumane ways to solve the varmint problem.

rabbit-717855_960_720One day as we were eating lunch at a restaurant, my mom began sharing about a home remedy she had found in a gardening magazine. It required combining various ingredients commonly found in your home that would get sprayed on flowers. Try to imagine her thick accent as you consider the dialogue that took place in that corner booth. “I tried a new formula for the rabbits that keep eating my plants,” she said. So I played along. “What’s in it?” I asked, expecting the usual ingredients. She responded, “Well, there’s water, und Ivory soap, und castor oil. ..” I thought to myself, “Hmmm … It doesn’t sound terribly potent.” She rattled off some other ingredients from her kitchen, which seemed to make the recipe a little more promising. Then she put down her sandwich, gave a mischievous smile, and said with dramatic pauses, “Then … I added … the secret ingredient.” I waited for her to finish. Looking at her expectantly, I gave her the look that says, “And the secret ingredient is???” Silence. She wouldn’t tell me! I tried prodding it out of her, but she just kept smiling, laughing at my discomfort, hesitant to reveal the lengths she went to for her concoction. Frustrated, I gave up my pursuit of the answer and went back to my lunch. Just as I was about to take a nice, big bite of my sandwich, she blurted out very matter of fact, “I peed in it.” Have you ever had a laughing fit? That’s what happened that day. I couldn’t contain my laughter. My mom joined in the giggling as we tried to subdue the moment. Other patrons in the restaurant began to stare, giving that look that questioned, “What’s your problem?” If they only knew!

We want a recipe, don’t we? Not just for problems in the garden, but we want a formula that will fix the problems of life: the path to financial freedom, the perfect diet, the ten steps to happiness, the “easy how-to”. And the magazines, media and infomercials are more than ready to tell us how to make it happen on our own for only three easy payments of $19.95. In fact, more than 8 billion dollars is spent annually in the self-help industry in America. I’ve found that I long for a secret ingredient to solve life’s problems too, mostly because I’m afraid to expose my own secrets that can hold me in chains and rob me of life. Secrets can take on different forms – maybe hurts from the past that haven’t been dealt with, moments of indiscretion that you’d rather keep quiet, a habit that has slowly grown into an addiction, an area in life where you’re afraid to admit you fall short. I do believe there is a secret ingredient that will help those who battle with these struggles. Don’t worry; it doesn’t require peeing in a bucket. But truth be told, it is even more unpleasant for most. It’s unconventional in society. It screams against the mainstream, asking something of you that most are unwilling to surrender

So, what’s the secret ingredient to living life to the fullest? Expose the secret. It sounds secret-1142327_960_720simple. But for most, the prospect of exposing their secret life causes panic attacks and cold sweats. “But then it’s not a secret,” you say. Exactly. There is incredible power in secrets. Secrecy is the enemy of our soul. We’re often convinced that we need to keep our struggles a secret; that we need to hide it in a veil of darkness. But darkness is where despair resides. When we expose our secret it allows others to share in our lives and know us from the inside out. I don’t know about you, but my deepest longing is to be loved for who I am, not for who I want people to think I am. When we’re truly known, yet truly loved, that’s when we’re truly satisfied. Many think that rejection or disgust from others awaits those who discard their masks of pretense and expose areas in their life where they might not have it all together. But the beauty of it is that the opposite happens. When authenticity shines through, it draws people in. Let’s all be authentic people, exposing our own secrets and admitting our faults. Let’s not only share in the pains, joys and struggles of others, but allow others to share in ours as well. That’s what relationships are for.

Tammy is a regular contributor to our quarterly member newsletter, and her articles will now be a monthly addition to our blog.

Return to Reverence – The Marigold

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Early on in my marriage I wasn’t exactly a gardening diva. In fact, I had very little interest in gardening. But my husband’s father, Louie, had gardening in his veins. I fondly remember going to his house and weaving my way through narrow passageways of seedling flats in his garage. Soon, the flats were transferred to a small greenhouse set up in his driveway. It wasn’t long before friends, neighbors and strangers were stopping in to buy his plants and engaging in some of the most colorful conversation they had ever had.

download (1)Louie, the ultimate salesman, always touted each variety of flower he grew, but none seemed to rival his affection for marigolds. Yes, I said marigolds! It’s not just the marigold’s distinctive scent that causes many seasoned gardeners to turn up their noses. What is it then, that brings many to dismiss them? Could it be that we have become gardening snobs, believing we have progressed too far in our botanical knowledge to extol such a lowly flower, as though it is only reserved for the commoners and unsophisticated gardeners? I hope not. I long to bring marigolds back to their once revered reputation. It’s name alone expresses how admired and respected it once was. In fact, marigold or “Mary’s gold,” was named after the most revered of all women in history, the Virgin Mary, and were believed to bring good luck. Originally discovered in Central America in the 16th century by the Portuguese, it was brought back to Europe where it grew in popularity. Today in South Asia, yellow and orange marigold flowers are grown and harvested by the millions to make garlands used to decorate statues and buildings. In Mexico and Latin America, marigold flowers are used to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and flower heads are scattered on relatives’ graves. So, it stands to reason that they should receive an honored place in our own gardens. Through the years many hybrids have been developed to bring out the most desirable characteristics like large flower heads, various plant sizes and unique colorations.

Perhaps the furthest advances in breeding, however, have been in diminishing one of its most notable qualities: its scent. Many people find the scent offensive. I personally find it’s something that one needs to learn to appreciate. I like to think of it like coffee; when I first tried coffee, I couldn’t understand why anyone would drink such an awful concoction. But with time I came to acquire a taste for the brew and now I love to greet each morning with a hot cup of coffee. And likewise, I love to greet each spring with marigolds.

Many use marigolds to outline garden beds or vegetable plots, believing they help keep out rabbits, deer and insects. While marigolds can deter some pests, they are not the all-purpose pest and plant repellent that people have been led to believe they are. Yet the marigold itself is virtually pest and disease free, with the exception of their arch-nemesis, earwigsfrench-marigold-1225611__180, which like to nestle and munch inside its tightly clustered flower heads. Despite countless breeders’ attempts, very few new color varieties of marigolds have been developed. The most common remain the yellow, gold and orange varieties seen in garden centers and catalogues. You will not find a pink marigold… yet.

Burpee’s Seeds, however, has done exceptionally well with developing unusual white varieties of marigolds. ‘French Vanilla’ is my personal favorite. It’s scent is light and pleasant, and is one of Burpee’s earliest triumphs in hybridizing white marigolds. It grows to 2’ with large 3½” flower heads and deep green foliage. The blooms are white with a hint of cream. Other notable white varieties include ‘Snowball’ and ‘Snowdrift’. Burpee’s Seeds played a major role in making the marigold among the most used flowers in America. After sweeping over Europe and Asia in popularity, David Burpee saw the promise in marigolds. In 1915 he took over the seed company founded by his father, W. Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and fund research. If you love giant flower heads, try the ‘Inca’ or ‘Inca II’ varieties. These giants produce 4-5” flower heads of bright yellow or orange on stocky 20” plants. If you’ve driven down South Oneida Street in Appleton during the summer, you’ll notice this variety lining the streets of Marigold Mile. Many other great varieties are available. Here are the three most common types of marigolds:


  • African or American Marigolds: These plants grow to 3’ in height with large globe-shaped flowers. ‘French Vanilla’ is among these beauties.
  • French Marigolds: These plants generally grow from 5-18” tall. Flower colors include red, orange and yellow, as well as bicolor varieties. Flowers grow to 2”across. A great new variety is called ‘Fireball,’ a unique combination of yellow and reddish orange with a large flower head.
  • Signet Marigolds: Recognized for their finely divided, lacy foliage and clusters of small, single flowers. The flowers are yellow to orange colored and are edible, having a spicy tarragon flavor. The foliage also has a pleasant lemon fragrance. A popular variety is ‘Starfire,’ with petite, bushy plants that boast hundreds of small florets.

downloadThe marigold. It’s no fuss, easy going, with a bright and sunny disposition. It may not be the flashiest of flowers or even the most impressive. It’s good at highlighting others around it, and is reliable, strong and simple. But I suppose that is why I love the marigold so much. Its attributes, character and charm remind me of Louie, who has sadly since gone on to meet the Master Gardener of all gardeners. It is partly because of him that I am so passionate about starting my own seeds, and I will always grow ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds in his memory.

Life Lessons from the Garden: From a Chore to a Delight

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

I grudgingly picked up the rake and began in the corner of my yard, which seemed the size of a small nation at the time. It was overwhelming. Spring had arrived, and the yard was strewn with litter, leaves and pine cones. But I pressed on, determined to conquer my yard. As I inched along I noticed a chickadee in a tree about twenty feet away. He’d swoop down to grab a single sunflower seed from my bird feeder and fly back up to his familiar branch. He’d sit and crack it against the bark to open it, eat the nut, and fly back down. This went on for quite some time, and as I continued to rake, I got closer and closer to my new-found companion. The chickadee didn’t seem to mind that I was now only a couple feet away. He flew down once again, right in front of me, and snatched a seed. I stood there for a moment, admiring his bravery. Curious, I leaned my rake against the feeder and reached inside to grab a handful of seeds. Raising my hand to the sky, I thought, “It sure would be cool if he…” Just then, the little chickadee flew down and landed on my finger. It felt like a whisper and I almost winced at the touch of his tiny feet. He gave a scolding chirp, grabbed a single seed and flew back to his perch. I stood there motionless for a moment with my hand outstretched. But inside my heart leapt with excitement and disbelief.

In an instant, the tedious chore of raking my lawn became a delight. I didn’t have a very willing attitude when I first started raking my lawn. But I obediently did it, despite my reluctance. And I was rewarded with an unexpected treasure. I think that’s true in life too. There are many things I know I “should” do, but I always find an excuse to put it off. Maybe there are areas in your own life where you are reluctant and unwilling because the sacrifice of time, money or effort seems overwhelming. But as is true with working in the garden, a great, and often, unexpected reward awaits you. Honestly, I can’t wait to experience the joy of raking my lawn this spring. But I would not have that willing attitude, had I not… grudgingly picked up the rake and began in the corner of my yard, which seemed the size of a small nation at the time ..

Tammy is a regular contributor to Garden Snips


Rhubarb Season is here

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

UntitledThis is my first rhubarb harvest this year. There was one more, but I ate it. We all have bunches of recipes for using rhubarb so I won’t go there.

Chinese records from 2700 BC record its medicinal use. Marco Polo documented its use, but I’m not sure if he introduced it to Europe. A while ago, I visited Old World Wisconsin. In one of the Germany heritage houses there was a string of, what I thought, were chicken bones. It was dried rhubarb! Many of the historical uses that I have read seem to be medicinal, rather that culinary.

My first picking didn’t have that lip puckering sourness of later season harvests. The sourness is due to the pH (acidity) which is in the range of 3.1 – 3.2. For reference, fresh lemon juice has a pH of about 2. Adding sugar doesn’t “neutralize” the acidity, it simply covers it up.

Rhubarb leaves have a reputation as being toxic. This is due to the relatively high concentration of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid’s primary effects can be stomach irritation and kidney problems. Ten pounds of leaves would be required to deliver a lethal dose. Kitchen pot cleaners such as Bar Keepers Friend and ZUD use oxalic acid as the primary active ingredient.

Uses for Rhubarb leaves:

  • Use them as a mulch.
  • They can be composted in limited quantities.
  • GREAT for leaf castings
  • I have seen recipes for rhubarb leaf concoctions as insecticides and repellents. These have been anecdotal, their effectiveness has not been verified.

I will break my promise not to talk recipes. Here’s mine: Peel, then eat.