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National Pollinator Week

If you love to eat, you need to help protect our pollinators. Without them, there would be no beautiful vegetables. The flowers and trees also rely on these wonderful winged creatures to spread seeds and fertilizer. With more and more areas being bulldozed and covered with concrete, we need to help our pollinator friends by including in our gardens the types of plants that they need for nourishment.

During National Pollinator Week — and throughout the year — think about protecting these helpful creatures. Additionally, you’ll be able to enjoy the birds, butterflies, and bees flitting through your gardens. Take a minute to review our post from pollinator week in 2015.

https://gardensnips.wordpress.com/2015/05/31/national-pollinator-week/

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Book Review

A Natural History of Ferns by Robbin C. Moran

Book review by OCMGA member Karen DesJarlais

51K2bUNuAML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I just finished reading this book and I know what you’re thinking. Too many rainy days, must have had trouble sleeping. But you’re wrong; this book is riveting as plant books go. I think you’ll gain new respect for ferns if you didn’t appreciate the wonders of a spore reproducing plant that dates back 340 million years.

The book’s 33 chapters (anyone of which could be a stand alone) is organized under six major headings: Life Cycle, Classification, Fern Fossils, Adaptations, Geography, and Ferns and People. You’ll be glad to know that the glossary

is clear and will cause you to be a real page turner if you want to enhance your knowledge of ferns or be botanically correct.

Here is the author’s crystallized version of how enriching fern study can be. “Learning the meanings of names of ferns opens a little window that looks out onto pteridology, the study of ferns. Through it you can glimpse people who developed the science, the voyages that brought back to Europe many previously unknown and marvelous species and the ancient cultures and what they believed about plants.”

The book has the best explanation I’ve seen of the advantage of using the Latin binomial for plant reference and ex- plains how the process of naming works. To name a “new” plant with a new Latin name, you need to comply with five requirements prescribed by the International Code of Binomial nomenclature. The code evolved over the years and every six years, an International Botanical Congress revises it.

You don’t need to have a PhD in botany or membership in a scientific society to name a new species. Anyone can do it as long as they present evidence that the plant differs from any previously discovered and as long as they follow the rules. Between 1991 and 1995, about 620 new kinds of ferns were described worldwide, mostly in the tropics.

You’ll enjoy the chapter “At the Movies” as it relates to a movie “A New Leaf’ released in 1971. The plot centers on the naming of a new fern.

We shouldn’t be surprised that ferns could be invasive. One such purple loosestrife like species is the salvinia molesta. It’s capable of doubling its population in size in just two days. This weedy one clogged irrigation ditches, blocked drainage canals and jammed water pumps. In some places, it harbored the human blood of parasite schistosomiasis causing entire villages in the Asian tropics to be abandoned. The story of finding the natural predator for this species is like a CSI.

In contrast, the most economically beneficial and smallest fern in the world is the Azolla. In North America, it grows in the Mississippi River floodplain of northeastern Arkansas. In Southeast Asia, especially China and Vietnam, it’s a rich nitrogen fertilizer for rice paddies. Nitrogen is release as it decomposes. Because of Azolla, the rice grain is richer in protein than if fertilized with chemical fertilizer. You’ll enjoy the cultural and economic discussion surrounding this tiny fern.

Pteridomania is the most engaging chapter under the “Ferns and People” section as well.

If you enjoyed botany at any point in your life, you’ll love this book. If you didn’t, you’ll find the author’s conversational styles slyly teaches you a lot. Yes, there are pictures; several pages of colored plates and lots of enlightening drawings, many of them done by the author.

I have a whole new respect for the Osmunda claytoniana (interrupted fern) that I just got from Wild Ones. It has a longer fossil record than any other fern, extending back 200 million years.

I found my hardcover of A Natural History of Ferns at the Menasha Public Library. It’s still raining (the ferns love it) and my eyes are getting a little heavy but I know it’s not the book!

Garden Trivia

img_5671cdf41fae5After a long hiatus, the blog is alive and well! Today’s post is a little trivia about a plant that we can’t grow, but whose fruit we love: bananas.¬† The banana plant is the largest known plant without a solid trunk. Botanically it is not a fruit but a berry. If we do classify them as fruit, however, bananas are by weight the world’s second highest fruit crop, just ahead of grapes but behind oranges. They contain more vitamin B6 than any other fresh fruit. This is the vitamin most commonly associated with creating a good mood and may provide some justification for the Latin name for the banana, which is Musa sapientum, which means “fruit of the wise men.”

  • India and Brazil produce more bananas than any other countries.
  • Elephants in Burma have been known to silence bells hung around their neck by clogging them with mud so they won’t be heard when stealing bananas.
  • In February 1946, a girl in Bridlington died after eating four bananas from among the first crop to reach Britain’s shops after the war.
  • 3 medium size bananas weigh approximately 1 pound.
  • A cluster of bananas is called a hand and consists of 10 to 20 bananas, which are known as fingers.
  • As bananas ripen, the starch in the fruit turns to sugar. Therefore, the riper the banana the sweeter it will taste.
  • Bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium and dietary fiber.
  • Bananas are America’s #1 fruit.
  • Bananas are available all year-round. They are harvested every day of the year.
  • Bananas are great for athletic and fitness activity because they replenish necessary carbohydrates, glycogen and body fluids burned during exercise.
  • Bananas have no fat, cholesterol or sodium.
  • Bananas were officially introduced to the American public at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Each banana was wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents. Before that time, bananas came to America on the decks of sailing ships as sailors took a few stems home after traveling in the Caribbean.
  • In 2001, there were more than 300 banana-related accidents in Britain, most involving people slipping on skins.
  • In Eastern Africa you can buy banana beer. This beer is brewed from bananas.
  • Over 96% of American households purchase bananas at least once each month.
  • Some horticulturists suspect that the banana was the earth’s first fruit. Banana plants have been in cultivation since the time of recorded history. One of the first records of bananas dates back to Alexander the Great’s conquest of India where he first discovered bananas in 327 B.C.
  • The average American consumes over 28 pounds of bananas each year.
  • Mait Lepik won the first banana-eating championship in Estonia in 1997 by eating ten bananas in three minutes. His secret was to save time by eating the skins as well. (Ugh!) The world record for the most bananas eaten in one hour is eighty-one.
  • Bananas first went on sale in Britain on April 10, 1633. Three hundred and forty-seven years and one day later, Dr. Canaan Banana became President of Zimbabwe.

Unusual Root Vegetables

There are plenty of unusual root vegetables to try growing if you’re feeling adventurous. Scorzonera and salsify are both long, tapering roots with an attractive, subtle flavor. Hamburg parsley, as its name suggests, is a member of the parsley family but one grown for its roots rather than its leaves. And horseradish is the hot, pungent ingredient that gives horseradish sauce its special, sinus-clearing quality.

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    Salsify

    Salsify¬†– Sow seeds outdoors in April or May in light, well-drained soil — the roots must be able to grow through it easily. Salsify won’t grow well in compacted or waterlogged ground. Harvest in the autumn if the roots are thick enough. If not, leave them in the ground over winter and life them the following spring. When cooked, they have a mild, oysterlike flavor.

  2. Scorzonera – Sometimes called black salsify, scorzonera can be grown from seed sown in spring, in the same way as salsify. It grows slowly, however and can be left in the ground until the autumn after next — a full eighteen months. Like salsify, it’s a vegetable that’s per
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    Scorzonera

    haps harder to prepare for cooking than it is to grow. It’s long, skinny roots are hard to peel, so it’s best to skin them after they’ve been boiled.

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    Hamburg Parsley

    Hamburg parsley – These roots look like parsnips, taste like parsnips, and are grown like parsnips. Sow seeds direct outdoors in March or April as soon as the soil is workable. Weed and water in summer, then harvest at any time from September through to the following spring.

  4. Horseradish – It’s hard to grow horseradish from seed. Instead, propagate it by dividing an existing plant, or by taking or buying a root cutting called a “thong.” Plant it in spring and in the first year dig up the roots for harvesting in the autumn. Once established, harvest as and when you need it.

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    Horseradish

Don’t discard that ‘Easter’ Lily

10171-00-baki_20170106135448Every year, ‘Easter’ lilies make their way into people’s homes and places of worship but so many of them end up on the scrap heap when you live in the northern area of the U.S. Don’t take the Easter part of the name too literally. This best-loved member of the lily family, Lilium longiflorum, actually blooms in mid summer when it has its druthers. But since more than 11 million are forced into early bloom and sold all potted up and decorated, this lily and Easter are forever entwined.

Forcing a bulb takes a toll, and it can’t be counted on to force again for the following Easter; but given a year to rest up in your garden, Easter lilies can recover and will bloom next summer and for years to come.

So gather them up (they look much better when planted in groups anyway) and care for them inside until after the last frost date in your area. Knock each bulb out of its pot, trying hard to keep the soil around the roots. Plant it with the base 8 inches deep in a sunny, well-drained spot, leaving the foliage and flower stems intact. The flowers will be finished, but the shiny green leaves should remain all summer; they play an important part in providing food to help the bulb regain its strength.

Planting the lily so deep allows the part of the stem that is below ground to develop roots and protects the bulb over the winter. Unlike many other bulbs that grow roots only from the base of the bulb, L. longiflorum is a stem-rooter, growing roots along the buried stem as well as from the bulb’s bottom.

Don’t cut the stalk down until the leaves turn yellow, and fertilize once a month between now and then. A 3-inch winter mulch is a good idea.

Next Easter will come and go without a peep from your lilies, but the mother bulbs will be hard at work, developing new flower stems for the Easter-in-July show.

House of Flowers

db0d06842a922723a63238991937df5dA fun project to do with your children or grandchildren: make a house of sunflowers and morning glories.

Sunflower houses are not an exact science, which is a great part of their charm. All you need are the flower seeds and a patch of open ground that gets plenty of sunshine.

Choose a sunflower that grows tall but also makes some branches, rather than an old-fashioned type that goes straight up and then hangs its heavy head. ‘Giant Sungold’, ‘Soroya,’ and the pale-flowered ‘Moonwalker’ are good choices. Make sure the morning glories are the climbing sort; it’s hard to beat good old ‘Heavenly Blue’ in this situation.

Wearing gloves, use agricultural lime to draw the shape of your house on the grass. (Don’t make it too small. When the plants are full grown, the walls will be about 3 feet thick.) Following the line, remove a foot-wide strip of sod. Enrich the exposed soil with some compost and well-rotted manure.

After all danger of frost is past, plant sunflowers about 3 feet apart, arranging a triangle of seeds at each location and spacing the seeds in the triangle about 2 inches apart. (Don’t forget to leave space for the door!)

When the sunflowers have four leaves, cut off the weaker extras. You should now have single, strong plants, spaced evenly around your perimeter. Wait until they’re 2 feet tall, then plant morning glories every 4 inches or so in the spaces between them. When the vines sprout, use thin twigs to train them toward the sunflowers.

Resist the temptation to fertilize. Sunflowers that grow tall too quickly are prone to falling over; and morning glories that get lots to eat make leaves instead of flowers.

 

Ornamental Grasses (conclusion)

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Indian Grass

In Part 1 of this discussion of ornamental grasses, we talked about grasses for part-sun, for cold climates, and those that provide fragrance. Today we’ll cover grasses that provide fall and winter interest.

Blades of Color

The most common fall color for grasses is a warm tan, but there are also some that are as bright as autumn leaves. Plant them where they’ll show up: the pale ones backed by dark evergreens, stronger shades where they will blaze against the pebbles of a courtyard or an open sky.

Yellows include many of the molinas, especially Molina caerulea cultivars, and Phragmites australis.

Shading more toward orange and red are the big bluestems (Andropogon gerardii) and switch grasses (Panicum virgatum), especially the variety ‘Haense Herms.’ Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) does double duty, starting out yellow and shading toward orange as the season progresses.

For darker reds, consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’, which has warm brown undertones, the purplish Hakonechloaa macra; Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’; and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens.’

Winter Grasses

The best grasses for winter interest are those that are quite sturdy, able to stand up to rough weather, including the feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis spp.), Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and those that have decorative seed heads, such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and cat tails.

For the prettiest effect, they should be planted in groups of varying heights of where they will be set off by evergreens, garden sculptures, or other structural elements that give them a context. If you just dot them here and there, they tend to look like something you forgot to clean up.

Cutting Grasses Back

In nature, nobody cuts down grasses, so why should we? Well, in nature, the open areas where grasses grow are periodically renewed by the cleansing effects of fire. In the absence of this very efficient remover of dead material, we need to cut back our grasses.

The best time to do it is in early spring, after the grasses have done winter landscape duty but before the new growth starts. Wearing gloves (many grasses have sharp edges) and using hedge clippers if the clumps are large, cut off the dead stalks right above the ground. This will not only open up the plants, bringing light and air to the centers and thus forestalling disease, but it will also remove a potential fire hazard.

Note: Grasses will let you know they need division by flowering less and/or dying out in the center of the clumps. Be on the alert for the start of these symptoms and divide the grasses then. You want to get in there before things get ugly, but there’s no need to divide plants that show no signs of needing it.