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Here it is, six weeks later, and some seedlings have s-l-o-w-l-y begun to sprout. The spinach has been up about a week and a half and is only now putting out second leaves. This past week some carrot and kohlrabi sprouts began to show.  At least this give me some hope for the seeds remaining underground—they might spout yet. So okay, up here in north central western Michigan, you can plant as soon as the ground can be worked, but the results, like the weather, might be mixed.Six wees to sprout? Really? Kale, a very cold tolerant plant has shown no signs of germination, neither have the beets, radishes, or Swiss chard. It might work out better for me to plant some of these in late August and grow them through the fall, and just wait until about now to put other seeds in the ground. On the other hand, the annual seeds of camomile and parsley are all over the garden! They have literally turned wild and are competing with the Veronica peregrina, in other words they’ve joined the weed community. I don’t really want to pull any of them out. Perhaps the veronica would make a good ground cover on the walkways between the growing boxes? Gardening is an adventure and an experiment!

My daffodils. scilla siberica, and hyacinth  are all blooming, and in the wild, so are the Amelanchier trees, so I can state spring is well underway here. Doesn’t mean we won’t have more snow! However, the blueberry plants from White Flower Farm arrived last Friday and I planted them Sunday. Hope they survive.

One of the first flowers every child draws in kindergarten is the daisy. Perhaps because of the simplicity of the petals’ design or maybe because the daisy shape is the first recognized as a ‘flower.’ I think we love them as children because they are cheerful, it is easy to pick a handful, and no one seems to mind the picking.

Double shasta daisy ‘Aglaia’

There are many daisies and daisy-like flowers and all come from the huge Asteraceae family of sunflowers, mums, dandelions, dahlia, and coneflowers, to name a few. One of the most popular daisies is the roadside wildflower, Chrysanthemum leucanthemum (also Leucanthemum vulgare), or the Oxeye daisy with its white petals and yellow centers.

This common daisy comes from Eurpose and the name derives from Anglo-Saxon for day’s eye. The botanical name is contradictory. Anthemum come from the Greek word ‘anthos’ meaning flower. Chrys comes from ‘chrysos,’ or gold, and leuc means white, so you have the white flowered gold flower. In some places this plant is considered a noxious weed, and although not poisonous, cows won’t eat it, so daisies in hay spells trouble for farmers.

Historically, the daisy was used as a medicine and cosmetic, most often as a soothing lotion. Another common name, Marguerite or Margaret daisy, comes from the 14th century when Margaret of Anjou married King Henry VI of England. Her wedding robes were embroidered with oxeye daisies.

The Shasta daisy is the white daisy most of us grow in our gardens. It’s flower is larger than the wild variety, and it is a bit better behaved. Luther Burbank hybridized this daisy. It used to be Chrysanthemum x superbum, but has been reclassified as Leucanthemum x superbum. As gardeners are the never satisfied with what they have, the hybridizers are developing pale yellow varieties.

Easy to obtain and easy to grow, Shasta daisies deserve their popularity. They also seem to like our Michigan climate. In soils that are very rich, Shastas grow tall and lanky, and the stems fall to the ground, but here they tend to stay more compact and well behaved all season long. They fit in with almost any style of garden from formal to more natural plantings. Their colors blend with many color schemes, and can even help harmonize less compatible colors.

All Shasta daisies need full sun and well-drained soil. They like moist soil, but thrive in less perfect conditions. There are many cultivars available, differing mostly in height, size of flower, and when they start blooming. There are both single and double flowered types available. ‘Polaris,’ and ‘Alaska’ are two of the oldest and most common single cultivars, and remains a great garden plants.
The 2003 Perennial of the Year as named by the Perennial Plant Association is the Shasta daisy cultivar ‘Becky.’ It has 3” flowers and blooms from July through September if the old flowers are removed.

If you don’t deadhead your flowers, or if they get lanky, cut back the stems to just above the bottom leaves. New leaves will quickly emerge from the plant’s base, and sometimes it resumes flowering. They like to be divided every two or three years, so you will soon have masses of daisies to pick. If you catch children picking your Shasta daisies, don’t scold; instead, take a moment to teach them the old divination game, picking petals to ‘he loves me, he loves me not.’

It’s August and the weeds are growing like there’s no tomorrow. Generally I pull weeds as I go, but at some point they always out maneuver my efforts. Suddenly I look around and weed colonies have established themselves everywhere.

Weeds are any plant in the wrong place. This means all the plants considered weeds like sorrel, dandelion and shepherd’s purse, and all of those overzealous plants that are prolific seed producers or determined spreaders. Right now I have an annual Cleome growing everywhere. It’s pretty and I don’t want to pull it out.

Self-seeded Cleome

There is relief from weeds, but no cure. Products like Roundup™ (generically called glyphosate) and other herbicides make killing weeds easier. Weed mats and mulch make suppressing them more efficient. However, you can’t use glyphosate everywhere, especially around water gardens, and it doesn’t work well on woody plants like vines, shrubs, and perennials with tuberous roots like iris and daylilies. Sometimes you have to use two or more applications to get rid of the weed, while any of the chemical landing on a nearby, desired plant is killed immediately. Gardeners have learned, much to our misfortune, that some herbicides while effective are dangerous. Manufactures removed them from the market. Herbicides can also be expensive. Weed mats work great for a few years, but removing them can be a hassle, as can putting down new ones in an established garden. And mulch needs replacing every year or two.

I hate hoeing and find heavy mulch is more efficient, but some weeds can thrive in deep mulch. So my weeding is usually done on my knees. This also allows me to get close enough to make sure I’m not pulling out an un-established plant put in this year or last year that isn’t keeping pace with the surrounding plants. Yes, it’s come to that. When I get up close and personal, I recognize the bad seedlings and ruthlessly pluck them out. Like all alien armies, reinforcements will soon arrive, so unrelenting patrol is required to defend the garden’s ground.

Some gardeners give up by this time of summer, tired of gardening. I have often done this, too, but now I’ve changed my perspective. Weeding isn’t a chore, it’s exercise; and I need to get as much of that as possible.

DandelionTheir yellow blossoms give dramatic proof of the dandelion’s presence in a well-manicured lawn. This plant inspires both appreciation and abomination. Four-year-olds pick the crayon-box colored disks to make sunny bouquets. Older children blow the silvery spherical seed heads to watch them shatter and send seeds floating through the air. Lawn purists spread herbicides to kill the hated weed. Gardeners dig them out, knowing how quickly they spread and how hard they are to eradicate. The trick is making sure to get the long taproot. Missing any segment will guarantee regrowth. I must admit I dig them out somewhat reverently, though, for I’ve come to see Dandelions as historical artifacts.

Dandelions settled in North America with European immigrants. Many of our common weeds arrived the same way. By 1748 observers already claimed they saw French Canadians digging dandelion roots, so they’ve been here a long time. Dandelions were a plant the colonist felt too valuable to be without. They remain an important food crop in Europe and other parts of the world. Originally they came from the Mediterranean regions and were mentioned by Theophrastus hundreds of years before Christ.

The name dandelion always rouses my curiosity. A Medieval German botanist for some unknown reason identified the plant as dens leonis or lion’s tooth. Through the ages it has been corrupted into its common English name, dandelion. Other common names include fairy clock, diente de leon, blowball, and Pee-the-Bed (probably due to it diuretic qualities). Its botanical name is Taraxacum offinale. The ‘offinale’ means the plant was an apothecary herb, important in health care. There are two accepted derivations for Taraxacum. Some believe it comes from the Greek taraxos for ‘disorder,’ and akos for ‘remedy.’ Others belief it is Persian in orgin, coming from tark hashgun meaning ‘wild endive.’

The colonists were right, dandelions are valuable plants. They contain high quantities of vitamins A, B, C and D and every part is edible. The tangy young leaves can be added to salads, or blanched and served like spinach (old leaves are bitter). Year-old roots can be cooked like parsnips or dried and brewed as a tea or added like chicory to coffee.

Historically, the plant was believed to heal health problems with everything from indigestion and constipation to blood disorders. My grandmother encouraged Dandelions greens as a spring tonic to cleanse winter blood. If you check the internet you will find many claims still made for herbal products featuring Taraxacum.

Dandelion was also used as a dye. The flowers provided a yellow color and the whole plant added magenta to the weavers’ craft.

Last, but not least, of its virtues, is dandelion wine. I’ve never had it, but it is claimed to taste somewhere between sherry and champagne. Feeling adventurous, I’ve decided I’m going to try making it. (Check out my blog at Night Writers. Pamela Jones, author of Just Weeds), claims the wine has “the most elusive, delicately fragrant flavors imaginable, the color pure liquid gold.” That makes me feel like picking Dandelion flowers.

Reference:
Jones, Pamela. Just Weeds, History, Myths, and Uses. Prentice Hall Press, New York, NY. 1991. Print. Page 217.

Wild Sorrel

Wild Sorrel

Good plant, bad weed. We pick and choose the plants we deem garden worthy, and call the rest weeds. One of the weeds you want to eliminate quickly before they become devilishly difficult is Wild sorrel.

Last week a new garden tool arrived in the mail that I’d purchased on line. I decided to try it out in the garden and started weeding the wild sorrel on the edges of my garden. It is a low growing weed with small lanceolate leaves with red touches on some of the leave’s edges.

A European transplant, Wild sorrel (Rumex acetoseela) (aka Sheep sorrel, Red sorrel, Field sorrel, Sour weed, Cow sorrel, Horse sorrel, Gentlemen’s sorrel, or Toad sorrel) is a cruising demon. It prefers soils like mine that are poor often sour, or acidic, types of soil.

These very prolific plants produce red stems that rise above the basal growth of leaves to produce reddish-green flowers that turn into tiny capsules holding hundreds of seeds. The real menace is the roots which travel great distances from the plant. I’ve carefully followed three foot long yellow roots from plants no larger than three inches in diameter. The roots not only spread out, but down. I’ll have to keep vigil, too, because each broken root will produce a new plant. However, Roundup wasn’t very effective, so I decided to dig them out.

According to Edwin Rollin Spencer in his book All About Weeds, Rumex is Latin for sorrel, and the acetosella means ‘the little vinegar plant.’ For centuries sour plants have generically been called sorrel (83). I think they have a lemony flavor. Yes, they are edible, and have been used in culinary arts since the Iron Age, the most famous use is in sorrel soup. You can find many recipes on line. The leaves are full of vitamin C, but need to be blanched to get rid of the oxalic acid. If you make the soup and fall in love with the taste, there is a another species, Rumex scutatus, that is better behaved garden plant. It’s leaves are larger and used like spinach.
For more information check out Wikipedia
Spencer, Edwin Rollin. All About Weeds. 1974. New York. Dover Publications.

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