Here it is the beginning of July and I’m tied up in everything but my failing garden. Bad weather has plagued the spring, but the asparagus seemed to like it. It did better this year than it ever has and we had about 20 pounds of produce from our 21 plants. I planted the vegetable garden the first week of June, but many of the vegetables did not come up. Some were new packets of seeds and still did not sprout. The weeds, on the other hand, are thriving. My flower gardens are over growing their bounds. I weed in spurts between other projects.

While gardening is good moderate exercise, three years ago I had a terrible pain in my hip and groin down to my knee. The doctor had an ex-ray taken and then asked me if I knew when my hip had been injured. Yes, in a car accident in 1979. He told me that was causing the pain and if I wanted to keep using it, I’d better exercise. I didn’t do anything for one year, then used our old rowing machine to work out for over a year. At 4000 strokes a week I ended up wearing out the pull rope and replacing it was more expensive than the machine. Since I’ve worn out my rowing machine, I’ve been walking. I’m up to two miles at 40 minutes five or six days a week, which is over the CDC  recommendation of 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic activity.” I plan to buy a new rowing machine in October to use during the winter months.

One thing I’ve noticed while walking is the amount of trash thrown out on the roadside. Interestingly, all states have anti-littering regulations, but they are all different in what is litter and penalties applied. In Michigan it is a civil infraction and any amounts less than one cubic foot are fined up to $800; amounts greater than one cubic foot but less than three cubic feet are fined up to $1,500. So ethically, we all know littering is illegal, but many people make moral choices to ignore this and throw the unwanted out the window. I regularly find empty beer cans along side the road even with Michigan’s 10¢ refund for returns. I’m sure this dumpster is also breaking the no drinking and driving law. On July 4th in my 1 mile trek down the road and return I picked up two plastic grocery bags of mostly plastic trash. At least their were no dirty diapers to collect.

What many residents don’t realize is that every square inch of Michigan is part of the Great Lakes watershed. And while plastic doesn’t break down for many years, it does break into microplastics that litter the world’s waters. The heavy tractor the village or county uses to mow the road sides breaks the plastic up into small pieces (as well as the road’s asphalt edge). The Great Lakes now have large percentages of microplastics. Matter of fact, a new study  says everyone is now pooping microplastics, so I’m glad I’m doing the little tiny bit I can to help prevent more plastic (and other trash) seeping into Lake Michigan.

 

I love seeing leaf buds as they are about to burst from branches. Often they emerge in colors that identify a plant, like the yellow-gold of willows. For me buds symbolize the promise of life and timeless renewal, and the introduction of a new gardening season.

We all enjoy the shade of leaves above streets in summer, and the sound of wind rustling through a canopy of leaves, but you might not find leaves an exciting topic for many reasons. For the most part, they are green, although they come in different shades and tints. Many leaves’ shapes come in an uninspired oval, varying only in size. Leaves seem to be more concerned with function than aesthetics; a plain green leaf produces more food than a fancy shaped variegated one. Leaves can cause us work, too. Some leaves, as in lawns, need labor to make them attractive. Others need raking every autumn.

Yet to me, leaves are so much more.

Every leaf is a complicated chemical laboratory and manufacturing site, and the only one known to be capable of taking water, air, and sunlight to make food. We all live off this wonderful ability, because we either eat leaves or animals that eat leaves.

They perform another service. Leaves change carbon dioxide into oxygen and water, helping humidify the air we breathe. Matter of fact, all the breathable free oxygen in our atmosphere comes from leaves. And while they perform this miraculous service, they help clean the air of pollutants.

Inside these little chemical factories, sugar, their main food product, can be changed into starches, protein, oil, and alcohol for consumption or sometimes for fuel. They also produce chemicals that heal us. Many drugs are still based on organic formulas found in leaves.

Some of these chemicals are poisonous, capable of killing rather than feeding or healing. A few poisonings by plant are famous, like Socrates, whose politics forced him to swallow poison hemlock. Instead of using these leaf chemicals to eliminate our fellow man, we now use them as weapons against bacterial agents and insects.

Besides all these attributes, leaves can talk to the gardener, telling them of a plant’s needs before it is too late and the plant dies. If I read the message, I know when your plant needs water, and when there is too much or not enough sun for their liking. If they mature smallish in size with yellow or reddish veins, they are telling me their soil needs an application of nitrogen, a common complaint. If leaves mature twisted and misshapen, the soil might lack zinc, an unusual occurrence. If I know the language, leaves can tell me when they need phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron, manganese, sulfur or iron. There are garden books that tell everyone how to understand leaf talk.

In our area, where we enjoy leaves that are deciduous, lasting only for the season, they have one more wondrous trick, they tell time. When swelling along the edges of bare winter branches they calculate spring. A full overhead glory of green tells of summer, and the changing of colors says autumn has arrived. When they have all fallen, except for the dried brown leaves showing an oak tree’s stubbornness, I know to turn on the furnace. So watch the leaves and enjoy the gardening season.

A news release from MGC website says “Piet Oudolf is coming to Detroit. Belle Isle is the perfect point of connection for residents and visitors—to the park’s amenities, the city, water and the region’s greenways. This is why Piet Oudolf has selected the land surrounding the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon for his newest public garden—in the cultural heart of Belle Isle, adjacent to the historic Conservatory, Aquarium and Remick Band Shell. The Garden Club of Michigan an affiliate of Michigan Garden Clubs of Michigan and National Garden Club, spearheaded the effort to encourage Piet Oudolf to create his next garden in Detroit. In his own words, he announced, “I am coming to Detroit to make a garden… This is the most natural location for one of my public gardens.’”

Michigan Garden Clubs, Inc. donated to the development of this new public garden at Belle Isle, a state park operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resouces, by one of the world’s premier landscape designers, Piet Oudolf. The none aligned with MGC, Inc, The Garden Club of Michigan, has been instrumental in attracting Oudolf to Detroit and Belle Isle. The Oudolf Garden, an all volunteer group under the Belle Isle Conservancy, says an approximately two acre garden will be installed at the cost of $3 to 4 million dollars. Planting will begin in August and September of 2019. The organization seeks donations to pay for the garden. You can donate via PayPal online at http://www.oudolfgardendetroit.org/donate or you can mail a check made out to BIC/Oudolf Garden Detroit and mail it to Oudolf Garden Detroit c/o BIC at 300 River Place Drive, Suite 2800, Detroit, MI 48207.

Other gardens designed by Piet Oudolf (from Wikipedia)

  • Singer Laren Sculpture Garden at The Singer Laren Museum and Concert Hall in Laren, Netherlands, 2018
  • Vlinderhof Public Garden at the Máxima Park in Leidsche Rijn, Netherlands, 2014
  • London branch of Hauser & Wirth, a Swiss contemporary and modern art  gallery of Zurich, Switzerland in 2013
  • Serpentine Gallery, interior garden in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Central London, England, 2011 with Peter Zumthor

    High Line Park, New York

  • High Line a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) elevated linear park, greenway and rail trail created on a former New York Central Railroad spur on the west side of Manhattan in New York City in 2006
  • At the Toronto Botanical Garden, the Entry Garden Walk in Toronto, Canada in 2006
  • Trentham Estate in Trentham, Stoke-On-Trent, 2004. Trentham Gardens are formal Italianate gardens, part of an English landscape park. The gardens are set within a large area of woodland which currently cover 300 acres. The gardens were designed as a serpentine park by Capability Brown from 1758, overlying an earlier formal design attributed to Charles Bridgeman. Trentham Gardens are now principally known for the surviving formal gardens laid out in the 1840s by Sir Charles Barry, which have recently been restored. In 2012 the Trentham Estate was selected as the site of a Royal Diamond Jubilee wood, and a new woodland of 200,000 native oak trees will be planted on the Estate. Successful garden designers Tom Stuart-Smith, Piet Oudolf and Nigel Dunnett have collaborated together on the garden redesign.
  • Battery Park in New York City, 2003
  • Lurie Garden in the Millennium Park in Chicago, 2003 with Kathryn Gustafson
  • Scampston’s refurbished Walled Garden at Scampston Hall in England, 2002-2003
  • ABN Amro Bank, Netherlands, 2000
  • Hoogeland in Netherlands, 2001
  • Millennium Garden at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, England
  • Country Cork Garden, Republic of Ireland
  • Parts of Kurpark Bad Driburg, Germany
  • Municipal park of Enköping, Sweden.

To have such a designer of such repute is sure to make Belle Isle and even greater Michigan attraction.

BUZZBy author Thor Hanson
From publisher Basic Books
ISBN-10: 0465052614
ISBN-13: 978-0465052615
Publish date: July, 2018

BUZZ is more than a title because a ‘buzz’ of interest kept me reading. The information on the evolution of bees from wasps, changing from carnivores to vegetarians during the age of dinosaurs, was fascinating, as was learning how long man has been harvesting and treasuring honey. It shows cave paintings of this activity! As a gardener, I also found the number of bee species astounding and their effects on how flowers developed through the millennia interesting. Only recently I learned Michigan has over 300 variety of bees, but had no idea on how many species there are in the world. All the information Mr. Hanson gives on the many types of bees in BUZZ is thought-provoking, and goes far beyond the scope of honey bees and their decline.

BUZZ is a well written personal narrative telling of the author’s own interest and journey of discovery on the topic of bees. Author Thor Hanson writes in easy to understand language rather than in the jargon of science, but he provides quick definitions when words of a scientific nature are used and gives supporting evidence on his information from many experts in the field. BUZZ also holds a message that humans need to become more aware of their relationship to the creatures and plants that surround us and makes living possible.

Even people, who do not think of themselves as ‘vegetable gardeners’ grow tomatoes because almost everyone loves that great ‘homegrown’ taste of vine-ripened tomatoes.

Besides growing tomatoes in the traditional vegetable bed, they have been grown in containers, hanging baskets, stuck in their own forty-pound bag of soil, and raised in herb and flower gardens .

The tomato is a charming fruit declared a vegetable by the Supreme Court in 1893, and one that inspires passions among many gardener, sending them on an unending quest for the best tasting tomato, the earliest ripening or the biggest fruit or largest yield. Many growers helped develop the many variations found in the tomato varieties now available. Hybridizers developed tomatoes for their sweet flavor, meaty texture, yellow color, pear shape, or type of usage.

Its history is just as bewildering. Early European explorers in South American took the tomato plant to Europe sometime before 1544. It was considered poisonous because of its relation to deadly nightshade, which as it name suggests, is a lethal poison. The tomato earned the name Pomme d’Amour, or Love Apple, which gives an interesting insight into personal relationships of the sixteenth century. Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, nightshade and jimsonweed all come from the Solanaceae family. We now know to eat the tomato raw only when fully ripened or to cook the green tomato, which breaks down the alkaloids that make it poisonous.

A warm season crop, tomatoes grow best in temperatures between seventy and seventy-five degree and won’t grow well until those conditions are reached. A touch of frost quickly kills them, so plant them after danger of frost is past. Garden centers sell many mechanical devices such as crop caps and ‘walls-of-water’ to protect plants set out earlier in the season. The best sites have rich soil that is slightly acidic with at least six hours of sun a day. Black plastic or straw or other mulch put around the soil helps keep the soil warm in cool weather. Tomatoes need watering once a week and the soil fertilized several times during summer. There are manuals and books galore on growing tomatoes that give more in-depth information than presented here.

Due to the diseases which tomatoes are susceptible to, it is best if you do not grow tomatoes in the same spot every year but rotate where they are grown for a series of four years. For the same reason you should never smoke around tomatoes, or handle them after handling cigarettes.

For the hunter of exotic of heirloom varieties, tomatoes are easy to grow from seed and are available from many catalogue and retail sources. When shopping for seeds or plants, look for short-seasoned tomatoes (quick ripening) for areas in colder zones, and select hybrids with the most disease resistance. The plant label should give you this information.

During the growing season you might have to protect your ripening tomatoes from local wildlife as many enjoy tomatoes as much as we do.  Also, if you see huge green caterpillars known as the Tomato Hornworm which has yellow spots and horns and is the larva of the Five-Spotted Hawkmoth, pull them off and destroy them in soapy water. Or get someone to do it for you.

Photo of tomato hornworm

Tomato Hornworm by Amanda Hill, and given to public domain.

Crocus

Crocus speciosus

This past five days have returned to somewhat normal April weather, still below the average temperatures for April, but at least not at freezing or below and no ice and snow. Rainstorm due this afternoon, but then April showers bring May flowers, right? I still expect more snow, but hope these expectations are unfulfilled. Looks like I have lots of garden clean-up to do.

Snowdrops – Galanthus nivalis

 

Funchal Botanical Garden photo by Hedwig Storch from Widimedia

Since man first started growing plants he has organized them. Gardeners have designed gardens by utility for centuries. We define our gardens by their use: vegetable, herb, perennial border or cutting garden, ornamental, or water gardens. We grow plants selected for one specific idea together. That’s the whole idea behind a theme garden, but today’s gardeners have taken the idea to heart and have resulted in extremes where garden plans center on ideas and topics of personal interest.

Historical use gardens are always popular. They display how the landscape around a historical home or building might have looked. Knot and parterre garden patterns, while lovely at ground level, were designed for viewing from a balcony or window. These plans developed from the way monks in medieval monastery gardens laid out their gardens, which led to topiary gardens with their heavily pruned shapes and leafy animals designed for surprise and entertainment.

Photo of Hever Castle Rose Garden.

Hever Castle Rose Garden photo by Graham Beuld from Wikimedia

Herb gardens are often subdivided by use into culinary herb, scented herb, medicinal herb, and dye herb gardens. Theme vegetable gardens can be salsa gardens, salad gardens, square foot gardens, or vertical gardens. A newer trend is the decorative vegetable garden, or vegetables grown in a ‘designed’ garden manner rather than rows.

Bee and butterfly gardens are designed to attract those insects. In bird gardens you will find plants birds use for food, habitat or nesting. In this section of Michigan, many gardens develop into deer gardens, even if the gardener didn’t quite have that purpose in mind.

Literature and art are other sources for theme gardens. In a Shakespearean garden, only plants mentioned in that author’s writings are grown. Biblical gardens contain plants referred to in that great book. I expect somewhere there is a Peter Rabbit garden and a Secret Garden based on the plants found in those stories. What a great way to introduce children to both gardening and reading! Gardens need not be limited to the literary works, gardens based on painters like Monet are popular.

Color based gardens are the most popular theme for flower gardens. Some mix all colors together in a flamboyant, breath-taking display. Then there are gardens devoted to all the flowers of one hue. Blue gardens with plants having foliage or flowers in that color are very popular, as are white gardens, which some call moon gardens if they have night-blooming flowers. Other types of theme gardens are devoted to a particular family of plants, such as a rose or daisy garden, but shrub, succulent, and bulb gardens are popular, too. Holland, Michigan, has a citywide theme garden based on tulips. There are shade gardens, woodland gardens, sun gardens, scent gardens and native plant gardens.

The wonderful thing about a theme garden is they personalize a garden and ideas for themes are limited only by imagination. If you decide to plan your own very special theme garden, here are a few helpful hints. Don’t be afraid to add a few elements like sculptures, or other objects, but the key word is ‘few,’ too many objects and you can lose the garden. A single color garden has predominately flowers of that color, but often a few plants of one or two other colors enhance the predominant color. Flowers or leaves repeating the same shape can be monotonous, so select different type of leaves when you choose plants. If you want a daisy garden, introduce some additional flowers with shapes that are not round.

Even in a theme garden the important thing to remember is to select plants capable of growing in your soil and climate. If you want an Orangerie like Louis XIV, and you live in a zone colder than Florida, you’ll have to grow your orange trees in tubs and put them in a greenhouse during the winter, like he did.

image of geranium

Scented geranium in early spring

My houseplants help keep me sane during the winter months. From the end of September to the beginning of May, you can expect cold weather in my location in Michigan. Which of course means snow, lots of it. I’m not a snow enthusiast and don’t ski. I expect to stay inside from November to mid-March, but a snow storm has hit here even in June. One blooming plant I bring indoors to plant out when it is safe is scented geranium or Pelargonium. I keep each one in a fairly large pot goes into a large planter outdoors and is easy to bring in before the first frost.

Most places treat pelargoniums like annual plants: plant them after the threat of frost has passed and enjoy them until the first fall frost. Yet they are perennial plants in their native habitat, so I treat my Pelargoniums  like an ordinary house plant during the winter and often, just when I need to see signs of springs, this plant delivers with blooms. Once the spring weather evens out, I place them in a shady place outside for ten days, and then move them to a sunny spot. They keep growing and blooming.

I do a lot of recycling, not only saving items from trash dumps by taking them to recycle centers, but also by inventing new uses for items that can no longer fulfill their original purpose.

We had six bags of concrete that were accidentally left outside. It rained; hard. The cement hardened inside the bags. What a waste of money and concrete. The  bags set next to the garage for months before I had an idea. I pulled off the paper covering and planted the concrete in a path of my garden as stepping stones. I was sure it was a horrible idea and the concrete would just crumble into small pieces. None of the forms broke up. They’ve been in the ground for at least seven years. A couple have cracked, but they stayed usable.

images of cement bags now stepping stones.

recycled stepping stones

Plants have grown around them, and now moss is encroaching into cracks and crevices. Each step, while vaguely oval, has surface markings from the original bag container that marks each a little differently, and they’ve begun to take on a patina of stone. Will they last forever? Probably not, but most likely longer than me.

Photo Aster cultivar 'Purple Dome'

Aster cultivar ‘Purple Dome’

Asters, like their cousin Chrysanthemums, bloom in late summer through to the first frost. Their petals form rays around yellow centers of disk florets looking like the Latin translation of Aster, ‘star.’

Asters fit into almost any garden, Aster alpinus being a diminutive species that grows six to twelve inches, while certain Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster) and A. novi-belgii (New York Aster or Michaelmas daisy) cultivars can grow to six feet. These are the most popular perennial Asters for our area, although there are many other garden Asters. The annual aster, or China aster, however, is Callistephus chinensis and not the same genus, although they look similar.

Photo Calico Aster

Wildflower: Calico Aster

Many of our garden Asters started out as wildflowers and you can still find many varieties of the wildflower types like the Calico Aster blooming along our roadsides. The larger flowered, more colorful garden varieties came back to us improved by European growers and hybridizers. They retain their native hardiness, which makes them great additions for our gardens. You can find asters in single or double flowered forms, often borne in panicles, or several blossoms to each stem.

Aster alpinus, the Alpine aster, besides being lower growing, have a single one to two inch diameter yellow-centered bloom on each stem. They like our cooler summers and last longer here than in warmer areas. The flowers come in deep purple to lavender and pink.

Aster x frikartii is hardy only to zone 5, but with our snow cover that lasts most of the winter season; many gardeners may find it survives just fine. It is a cross between the Italian aster and the Thompson’s aster. It has large flowers with a prolonged season of bloom. ‘Monk,’ and ‘Wonder of Staffa,’ are probably the most popular aster cultivars grown. Both have blue flowers.

The wild New England aster is one of the largest and prettiest of the late summer-fall wildflowers. The garden cultivars have long and hairy leaves that clasp the stem (the bottom edges of the leaf wrap around the stem rather that attaching with a petiole). Flowers come in a range from white, pink, rose, deep red and violet-blue and make good cut flowers that last longer than the flowers of the New York aster.

Smooth rather than hairy leaves differentiate New York asters from New England asters. Their leaves also clasp the stem, but the number of cultivars numbers in the hundreds, ranging in size from fifteen inches to six feet. Flowers come in white, all shades of light to dark purple and blue, red and pink. Yellow is one color missing from Asters.

Photo Panicled Aster?

Wildflower: Panicled Aster?

Most Asters thrive in full sun, and although they’ll grow in partial shade, the amount of flowering is reduced. You can increase flowering by pinching stems tips back during the plant’s growth period, or until about the middle of June. It is important to deadhead the spent flowers as Asters set seed and the new plants won’t look like their parent. Tall growing varieties might need tying and staking to keep from flopping over. A layer of mulch helps retain moisture and keep weeds down, but most will thrive even if neglected.

Photo Smooth Aster

Wildflower Smooth Aster

Plant centers might have blooming asters available in pots around this time of year, so look for a few autumn stars for your garden.

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