Archive for Perennials

To Weed or Not To Weed

This spring, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to mow my backyard – the riding mower is on the frits and I am not going to push mow an acre!  So my backyard currently looks like a jungle, no kidding.

I have so many plans for the back 40, but I have limited time and resources.  I have several garden beds layed out and I have been transplanting divisions from the front yard to the back.

However, with no way to easily mow the back, I have only mowed a few paths through the backyard; mainly to reach the water meter, pick blackberries and transplant divisions.  What I have noticed over the past two months is that I am getting a VAST array of wildflowers, tree seedlings and shrubs.

Most people would be horrified to have such an overgrown yard, but I am in natural gardening heaven!  The tall bluegrass and fescue I can do without, but some other plants are definitely keepers:

-Several different species of Goldenrod – the official state flower of Kentucky – have sprung up all through the backyard.  This is my number one keeper!

Ironweed, mostly seen in cow pastures and fields, ha sprouted up in several places. I love the purple flowers.

Milkweed; most of you probably think this is a weed – but you would be mistaken.  Milkweed is a host plant for the Monarch butterfly and I love butterflies in my garden.  This one is also a keeper.

Walnut tree seedlings; I am allowing three black walnut trees to take up residence at the extreme bottom of my yard.  I love walnuts and if I keep them confined to the very back, I won’t have to worry about walnuts all in my garden in the fall.

Hickory nut seedlings; this is a definite “must keep”.  As I child I use to go with my grandparents in the fall to pick hickory nuts for the winter.

In addition to the new plant life, my overgrown backyard has become home to all types of wildlife:

-Rabbits

-Squirrels

-Foxes

-Bluebirds

-Red tailed hawks

So, if you want to attract wildlife or native plants to your yard, just leave a small portion of your grass unmowed and see what takes root in your gardens.

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Mother Nature’s Medicine Chest

Plant a garden of ancient herbs and learn how early healers used them to cure sicknesses and aid in emergencies.  By planting this garden in the shape of a horseshoe, you will have a fragrant arch that will send you back in time; back to a time were doctors and pharmacies, hospitals and nurses, and laypeople and grandmothers turned to plants for their medicinal needs.  Many of these green medicines are still used in modern medicines today.

 

PLANTS TO USE:

1 seedling Aloe Vera

1 seedling Calendula

1 seedling catnip

1 seedling dill

1 seedling fennel

1 seedling lavender

1 seedling lemon balm

1 seedling parsley

1 seedling peppermint

1 seedling sage

1 seedling woolly lamb’s ear

3 seedlings cilantro

 

Slit open the leaf of an Aloe Vera plant and squeeze the clear gel on your skin.  It feels cool and soothing when used on minor burns or skin irritations.  Stuff a pillow with lavender to ensure sweet, colorful dreams, and make your own bandages with woolly lamb’s ear leaves.  You can concoct a lemon balm wash for cold sores, and a healing throat gargle from sage leaves steeped in vinegar.  The petal of Calendula will surprise you with their ability to cleanse wounds and heal chapped skin, and a cup of catnip tea may become your favorite sleepy time drink.

 

Pick out an area for an 8 by 8 foot size garden that will receive at least six hours of full sun daily.  Outline a horseshoe shape, approximately six feet wide and eight feet long with planting beds 18 inches wide.  Make sure the opening of the horseshoe is facing south

 

Prepare the garden bed as you would any new garden space.  You can with till the top layer of soil under, double dig the entire garden, or do as I do and use the newspaper method.  Spread a layer of newspaper over the garden area, and then begin layering shredded bark, mulch and compost over the newspaper.  Garden is immediately ready to plant and the new emerging plant roots will grow through the newspaper into the topsoil below.

         

One the horseshoe shaped beds are planted, fill in the open area of the garden with mulch or shredded bark to keep the weeds down and provide a comfortable place to relax.  When planting, maintain 12 to 18 inches between each plant.  The tallest herbs, like fennel and dill, should be planted on the north side of the garden to prevent shading of the shorter plants.

 

Uses for Some Herbs:

1.     Dill – helps with upset stomachs and heartburn.  The foliage, flower buds and seeds are the eatable portions of this herb.

2.     Coriander seeds – the seedpods of cilantro are called coriander seeds.  Snacking on these seedpods will give your mouth a breath-freshening feeling.

3.     Aloe Vera – the oozing gel inside an aloe Vera leaf will help sooth mild burns, sunburns and other mild skin irritations.

4.     Peppermint – rubbing peppermint leaves on your exposed skin will help discourage nuisance bug bits.

5.     Fennel – the seeds of fennel taste like licorice and a helpful with weight loss because they satisfy hunger and decrease appetite.

Home Remedies

1.     Tummy Tea – strip dried peppermint leaves from their stems, pack them into a clean tin, and cover with an airtight lid.  Store in a cool, dark cupboard.  Herbalists use the healing, anesthetic menthol of peppermint tea to soothe upset stomachs and indigestion.  Scoop 2 to 3 teaspoons per cup into a tea ball, place into a teapot, and add boiling water.  Steep for 8 minutes, cool, then sip slowly for gentle relief.

2.     Sage Gargle – Sage leaves are filled with astringent and antiseptic tannins that comfort sore throats.  Pack a wide mouthed jar with whole dried or fresh sage leaves.  Cover the sage leaves completely with apple cider vinegar and cap tightly.  Store in a cool, dark place, and shake daily.  After two weeks, pour the sage-vinegar mixture through a strainer and rebottle the liquid.  Put it in your medicine cabinet and use as a gargle for sore throats.

3.     Cold Sore Remedy – Strip dried lemon balm leaves from their stems, and fill a clean glass or tin container.  Cap tightly and store in your medicine chest to make an antiviral wash for cold sores.  Put 2 to 4 teaspoons of dried herbs in a container and add 1 cup of boiling water.  Steep for ten minutes, strain, and let cool.  Apply the cooled mixture to cold sores with a sterile cotton ball several times a day.

4.     Herbal Bath Bags – Bath bags are simple to make and can be washed and reused.  With pinking shears, cut a piece of fabric into an 8-inch square.  Fill the center of the fabric with a handful of lavender flowers and stems and lemon balm leaves, lift the edges to form a bundle, and tie closed with a piece of ribbon.  For a muscle-relaxing soak, drop the herbal bag into a tub of hot water.  Climb in, stretch out, and breathe in the heavenly fragrance.

5. Dream Pillows – Aromatherapists and herbalists recommend the sweet, blended fragrances of herbs and flowers for calming, colorful, dreams.  Mix together dried lavender flowers, lemon balm leaves, and fennel and dill seeds.  Cut a 6- by 12-inch piece of soft fabric and fold it in half.  Squeeze a narrow bead of fabric glue along two of the edges and allow the seams to dry.  Loosely fill the pillow (it should be flat enough to slip inside a pillowcase) and finish closing the bag with another bead of glue.  Slip the thin fragrant pillow inside your pillowcase and drift off to sleep on a cloud of herb-scented dreams.

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Liilacs and Peonies: Perfume of the Gods

Of all the spring fragrances – daffodils, hyacinths, lily of the valley, honeysuckle – I think lilacs are my favorite. There is nothing that compares to the fresh clean scent of lilacs during the spring blooming season. French lilacs are the most popular varieties you will find for sell in the garden center and these should be allowed to grow to approximately eight feet tall before pruning. When they are the proper height, you should start pruning branches to control the height and thinning out older branches to help prevent disease, remove dead branches and encourage new growth.

The time to prune and thin a lilac is immediately after blooming. Lilacs bloom on old wood, so spring pruning allows the branches to grow throughout the summer and fall and prepare for blooming again next spring. The worse thing you can do is prune these lilacs in late winter, because if you do, you will be cutting off all the new blooms. Thinning out the dead or overcrowded branches helps prevent the invasion of the stem borer which can attack the dead wood and eventually kill the lilac.

The best time to transplant lilacs is in the fall, but I have had success with early spring planting. If you plant lilacs in the spring, you must keep the plant moist. Since lilacs need to be planted in full sun, they will dry out easily, which can lead to sudden death. Lilacs also need good circulation because they are prone to mildew. The old fashioned lilacs from our grandmothers past are particularly prone to mildew and this shows up like a white powder on the leaves of the bush.

Lilacs also like to “pout” when they are transplanted. As long as you follow the suggestions above, your lilacs will eventually thrive, but they will show their displeasure by being stingy with the blooms for several years after the move. BE PATIENT – the lilacs will settle down and within five years will return to a profusion of springtime blooms.

Another springtime fragrance I love is peonies. These flowers always remind me of my Granny Sallee, because this was a flower she had growing every where she has lived. Down on the farm in Bohon, she had many peony bushes in all colors. When she and Granddaddy had to move to town, she dug up several peony roots and brought them with her. These thrived under the clothesline in their backyard.

So I have peonies lining my driveway. I started out with one each of the pink, red and white peonies. Over the past fifteen years, I have divided these three original plants into dozens of different clumps and they all give me profusion of blooms each spring. My husband calls my peonies the “ant plant” because the plant is invaded with large black ants when the blooms start to grow. The ants are attracted to the sweet sticky nectar that oozes from the flower buds. As the ants work to drink all the oozing nectar, they are also helping the tightly formed buds to open. The ants are harmless and I would dare anyone to try and find a peony that did not have ants scurrying around.

Peonies and lilacs are the basis for the Mother’s Day bouquets I pick for my Mom and my mother-in-law every year. Nature’s perfume, the fresh clean scent always makes me happy and brings me many memories of my grandparents.

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Fresh Asparagus vs. Canned Asparagus

Ask most people if they like asparagus and the majority of the time you get a resounding NO!  But on further questioning you will probably learn that most people have never eaten fresh asparagus picked right from the garden.  Their only point of reference with asparagus has come in the form of canned, store bought asparagus, which is normally bland and tasteless.

        

Asparagus picked fresh from the garden, steamed for a few minutes and served with tiny amounts of butter is like heaven to the tongue.  Gone is the bland, soggy taste; instead you have crisp texture veggies with a slight nutty taste.  There is no comparison and I’m sure if you will give fresh asparagus a chance, you will never buy the canned variety again.

        

Asparagus is a perennial and it is usually one of the first veggies to poke its head up in the spring; it is a welcoming sight for many people.  The climate in Kentucky is perfect for asparagus because asparagus needs to be planted where the soil is cold enough to freeze down at least a few inches.

        

Plants can be started from seed or crowns, but crowns are the preferred method.  Seedling plants can be quite different and they take several years to establish.  I like planting two-year-old rootstock because this will allow for first pickings of asparagus after only three years.

        

In choosing a site to start a new asparagus patch, make sure it is well drained.  Asparagus will not tolerate soggy, poorly drained soil, which will cause the roots to root.  A loose sandy soil is usually preferred, but any healthy garden soil can be used.  Asparagus is unlike many veggies because it needs a slightly alkaline soil pH.  Most other veggies thrive in acidic soils.

        

The first asparagus patch I planted was inside two tractor tires I had hauled to the garden.  I filled these tires with soil, well-rotted manure and compost, mixing up a rich healthy soil.  If you are the type to like commercial fertilizers, then a balanced fertilizer like a 12-12-12 at the rate of two pounds per 100 square feet of garden area is recommended.

        

I prefer to use organic fertilizers in my gardens; so regular compost, vermicompost and manure teas are my favorite ways to enrich soil.  Since asparagus prefers a regular fertilization schedule, I apply these techniques once every two to three weeks.

        

I started these new beds by laying two-year-old asparagus roots in the bottom of my tractor tire.  I covered the roots with five to six inches of enriched soil, tamping it down lightly and then watering throughly.  During the first active growing season, I continued to fill the tire with soil when the asparagus reached five to six inches tall.  Newly planted asparagus will produce a few harvestable stalks during the first year, depending on the variety.  I typically leave these first stalks and by the end of the growing season, the tire is filled with rich healthy soil and I have several asparagus fronds feathering above two feet above the tire.

 

 

After the third year of growth, you can pick asparagus stems until your heart’s content, leaving a few stems in each patch.  In order for the asparagus to grow and remain healthy, a few stems need to be left so they will send out the feathery fronds.  It is these fronds that get energy from the sun to continue the growing cycle.

 

So next time your in the Farmer’s Market, pick up some fresh asparagus spears for supper.  I’m sure you will love them, and maybe start your own asparagus patch.

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