Tag Archive | Gardening

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.

The Scent of Improved Health

The following article is taken from “Renew”, a UnitedHealthcare magazine. The source quoted is The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.

Chamomile: relieves anxiety; promotes sleep; is anti-inflammatory

For thousands of years, the medicinal benefits of

Lemon: energizes and uplifts the mind; detoxifies; repels viruses

inhaling aromas of certain essential oils have been known by many cultures around the world.

Today, aromatherapy — using plant extracts and essential oils for their scent — is used in some hospitals and clinics as complementary medicine.

Eucalyptus: relieves congestion; clears and energizes the mind; helps with brochitis

A 2013 study published by Bentham Science in Current Drug Targets has indicated certain health benefits of aromatherapy — from killing bacteria to improving mood disorders to combating insomnia. In 2014, a review of several studies published

in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found a positive effect from essential oils on sleep disturbances with no adverse reactions. Plus, for more than a decade, essential oils have been studied for use in cancer therapy (in tandem with conventional treatment), and the results of more than 100 studies have been promising to doctors and other health practitioners.

Lavender: reduces anxiety; produces a sense of calm; promotes cell regeneration (which is good for wounds and burns)

What’s wonderful about aromatherapy is that you can experience it at home. Essential oils are widely available for purchase, so check you local grocery or health foods store. The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, naha.org, also has tips to get you started.

Here are a few ways to use aromatherapy essential

Peppermint: relieves nausea; is an analgesic for aches and pains; reduces migraines; energizing

oils at home:

  • Dilute into a spritzer and spray a room
  • Add drops to your bath water
  • Add drops into boiling water or a steamer

Little Scientists at Work

by OCMGA Master Gardener Shirley Martin

As part of the preparation for the upcoming planting season several Master Gardner volunteers went to some classrooms at the Appleton Bilingual School and presented a seed starting class. These children and their teachers were very interested in the project and took the instructions very seriously. They are documenting their results with words and pictures. They were so excited to see the seeds sprout in the “planters” made from old water bottles.

The bottles are cut in half and the top is inverted into the bottom. A coffee filter is stuffed into the neck of the bottle then the top of the bottle is filled with soil and seeds are planted in it. This coffee filter acts as a “water wick” to transfer water from the bottom of the bottle (reservoir) to the the planting medium. It is inexpensive and effective. It fits on most windowsills and is an ideal mini-planter.

Old-fashioned but never out of style: Peonies

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Whenever I see peonies in bloom, I think of my Grandpa. In his garden, he had the most beautiful deep red peonies and, in my garden, I now have two huge, healthy plants that are glorious each year. I’ve also added pink and yellow peonies to my garden and I’m so thrilled that this lovely bloomer continues to be popular.

Common name: Peony

Botanical name: Paeonia; there are more than 30 species, including P. officinalis, P. lactiflora, and P. mollis, and many hubrids and cultivars

Height: up to about 3 feet tall, 3 feet wide

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Bloom time: Mid- to late spring, into early summer

Conditions: Plant peonies in well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. The pointed eyes (where shoots emerge) should only be about 2 inches below soil level, with the eyes facing up.

Best features: Peonies are among the easiest perennial plants to grow. They are long-lived, are not much bothered by pests, and tolerate drought. Established peonies can be relied upon to produce dozens of flowers every spring. There are thousands of hybrids and many different flower types, but semidouble and double peonies are the classic blooms. The flowers can be pale or bright pink, magenta, deep red, pure white, rich coral, soft yellow, or bicolored. A good selection of early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties will provide flowers for six weeks. Flowers can be cut on stems up to 24 inches long. Peony foliage is pretty, too, and the plants are a substantial presence in any garden.

Peonies coming up in the spring

Peonies are easy to share: Propagate plants by division. Dig them up in fall, and divide the crown carefully with a sharp knife; each division should have at least one eye, preferably more. You should be able to separate an established plant into at least three divisions. A divided plant will be more vigorous than one that you simply dig and move without dividing.

Be sure to fertilize with aged compost or manure. Peonies are particularly sensitive to fresh

manure — it will severely damage the plant. Peonies like slightly alkaline soil conditions.

I can’t recommend strongly enough these old-fashioned plants for your garden. The blooms are lovely, with a marvelous aroma, and the foliage is beautiful. The plants require almost no care — and don’t knock those ants off the blooms! As explained in a previous post, those little warriors are helping the plant!

In My Backyard: The Sauk County Gardener

One thing you’ll learn about gardeners: we love to share our knowledge and our experiences with other gardeners. Here is a reprint of an article from a fellow gardener in Sauk County that appeared in our State newsletter The Volunteer Vibe.

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Phyllis Both, Sauk County UW-Extension Horticulture Educator

When I was a child many, many, many years ago I loved watching insects.  I would catch and study them under a microscope.  We had a neighborhood with a lot of kids.  We used our imaginations and made up old fashioned games.  My forte was bugs.  I’d catch them, put them in jars and charge a penny to view them.  It was so much fun for a little kid! Now days my interest is a little more extensive and I attend any entomology presentation I can.

Reedsburg-Pioneer-Village-Museum-SignWhen my Master Gardeners adopted a neglected historical site called the Reedsburg Area Pioneer Log Village we each adopted a cabin to beautify. We planted old-fashioned flowers and cared for the cabins to help attract more visitors and school children.  Black-eyed Susan’s, hollyhocks, daisies, and numerous hardy native plants were planted in the very poor soil the pioneers had to deal with.

These improvements helped but it was still not a village. Two victory gardens were planted.  It’s amazing how many people don’t know why the victory garden were planted during WWI and WWII.  It is a great teaching tool.  We loved the gardens but it was still not enough.  We started wondering what the pioneer doctors would have used since a drugstore or apothecary was not available.  An herb garden was built and medicinal herbs were planted.  This garden is another great teaching tool for both kids and adults.

What was still missing?  A prairie!  A natural habitat for bees, butterflies and wildlife was just what the village needed.  After a few summers went by, bluebird houses went up, bat houses went up, and native bee houses went up.

Still something was missing.  My love of the insect world must have pointed me in the right direction.  We decided to create a butterfly trail and add bee hives.  They work well together.  Fortunately three of my Master Gardeners were bee keepers and volunteered to get us started.

Top-bar_brood_comb_from_a_warre_hiveWe built three hives and ordered three colonies with three queens all from California. Our California girls were doing a great job this past summer but only in two of the hives. One of the hives was a bit lazy.  We still got fifty-one pounds of honey from the two productive hives.  We were amazed when the poor producing hive re-queened itself with a Wisconsin lady.  All three hives are buzzing with activity this spring.

I have learned so much about the wonderful community of bees; their leaders, their workers, their gate keepers.  The hives are wonderful teaching and learning tools for out busloads of visitors who have a love of nature.

I Love, Love, Love Lavender!

With visions of Heathcliff on the moors gathering fragrant bunches of heather and lavender, I’m swept up every time I use one of my lavender-scented soaps or walk through my garden and brush against the fragrant blooms of my lavender plants. I didn’t always have success growing the lavender, though. For a while, I had one as a houseplant until I overwatered it and sadly had to add it to the compost pile. Then, I had a couple in my garden that lived but didn’t thrive until I finally decided to do some research on why I was failing so often with this beloved plant.

Enter ‘The Lavender Lover’s Handbook’, a badly needed and now heavily well-worn gift from my daughter-in-law who knew of my love for the plant. This book, by Sarah Berringer Bader, has been a primary reason for the turn-around of my plants from surviving to thriving.

First of all, though, let’s talk about why you should include lavender in your garden:

  • it’s absolutely beautiful with foliage that ranges from various shades of green through gray-green to silver. The flowers come in shades of blue, purple, pink, and white so versatility is huge!
  • the fragrance is incredible and, when dried, the flowers last long into the winter
  • grown in the right spot, very little to no care is needed. As long as the spot has full sun, good drainage, and plenty of room to spread out, you can focus on plants that require your attention. Lavender will take care of itself, thank you very much!
  • lavender attracts a range of pollinators — the good ones that not only pollinate your garden but also eat the pests you don’t want! Watch carefully on a sunny day and you’ll find bumblebees, honeybees, butterflies, ladybugs, and praying mantises drawn to this delightful plant.

There are many, many lavender plants from which to choose so you’ll want to do your homework to make sure you’re ordering or buying a plant that will thrive in your growing zone. Because lavender is exceptionally drought tolerant, it’s a great addition any area of your garden where watering is a problem. Consider combining it with other drought-tolerant plants like Achillea millefolium (yarrow), Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower), Gallardia grandiflora (blanket flower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). The purple / yellow combination of these plants will make a beautiful garden area.

Lavender and roses love growing together as well (see prior blog post here) and makes less work for you! While roses attract aphids, lavender attracts aphid-eating ladybugs. Roses do want more water than lavender, however, so you’ll want to mulch the roses to retain water. The flowers from both lavender and roses can be gathered and dried, but here’s where my skills leave me — utilizing the flowers for teas, soaps, baking, sachets, and crafts. However, with both purple and white lavender in my garden along with some beautiful yellow roses, I’m planning on learning these skills!

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Tender Bulbs from the Tropics

The plants known as summer bulbs are like spring bulbs in that they use a wide assortment of true bulbs, corms, rhizomes, and tubers for energy storage. But unlike spring bulbs, they are not frost hardy. Gardeners in temperate zones must plant them each spring and — if they don’t want to keep buying new ones — must also dig them up in fall and store them over the winter.

Glorious bed of gladioli

Although this didn’t bother the Victorians, who were big summer-bulb fans, over time these tender beauties gradually fell out of fashion. Fortunately, fashion is ever changing, and summer bulbs are again a hot item, with new introductions constantly entering the market.

The big four — which never really went away — are cannas, dahlias, gladiolus, and tuberous begonias, but they are just the start of a list that also includes acidanthera, sometimes called the peacock orchid (Gladiolus callianthus), which has tubular white flowers with a deep purple throat; the Mexican shell flower or tiger flower

Agapanthus

(Tigridia pavonia), whose iris-shaped, spotted flowers come in many

bright hues; the Peruvian daffodil or ismene (Hymenocallis narcissiflora), which has fragrant white or yellow daffodil-like blooms; and agapanthus, which has lush clusters of narrow leaves and starry clumps of blue or white flowers.

Want more? How about the bright yellow, orange, and orange-red wands of Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora and its several close relatives; the tall, fragrant, white-flowered Galtonia candicans, sometimes called summer hyacinth; and perhaps most fragrant of all, the tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa).

All these and more are easy to plant, easy to love, and readily available, but to be sure of the widest selection, consult specialty catalogs as well as your local garden center.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman