We Live in the Garden of the Almightly

A green leaf, sign of lifeMy favorite worship sanctuary is the outdoors. You can’t go into nature without seeing the hand of God everywhere. Divine design. Sometimes microscopic. Always beautiful. I often picture myself having crossed over into the great beyond. I sit in a sunlit glade of trees at the foot of God’s throne asking him, “…and why did you put thorns on all the roses and the poison ivy – what was the thinking there?”

There are no better people on the earth than gardeners, and I can’t imagine a gardener that doesn’t believe in God. His incredible handiwork is everywhere. Really, a lot of times when I pray to my Heavenly Father, I request that he assign me work in His gardens when I finally cross over. I know I’ll have some really interesting company.

In the Bible it says:

For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities –  His eternal power and divine nature –  have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 NIV)

God created the most unbelieveably beautiful background in which to place His most beloved creation, us.

While teaching my youngest son about the planets of our solar system, I came across many wonderfully animated videos about the sun and moon and stars. Then I found a wonderfully done professional video with all of the planets slowly passing by, as if you are seated on a spaceship looking out the back window. The planets are created from actual photographs and it feels very realistic. You travel from the sun all the way to Pluto and each planet is spaced correctly and sized proportionately as they should be. While I was enjoying the experience with my science loving son, a lovely blue planet came into view. He exclaimed, “Look it’s Earth, our home.” And in that moment I saw how proud God must be of His creation. Tears streamed down my face while I held my son. I was held captive in an unexpected moment of awe and gratitude to the loving God who made such a magnificent home for us.

A reader by the name of Jerry Mansour recently wrote to me with information on God, plants, DNA, and the Bible:

Each plant, and indeed each living organism no matter how small, has the same complex type of DNA programming that we have and so we can count on exact and specific characteristics for each plant; including leaf and flower shape, color, texture, fragrance, growth pattern, size, form (erect, creeping, vining, bush, tree, etc.)  Plus each plant has its own specific nutritional profile that is carefully taken up by the roots yet from the same soil (as determined by the exceptional programming at the plant’s headquarters).  As you can see, I am both a science student and Bible believer and have taken an extensive look at our own DNA…which if it could be extracted from all the cells in just one of us (humans) and laid end to end would reach all the way to the sun and back over 600 times.  A truly exceptional design.

One of my favorite pastors, Louie Giglio, who shepherds a large congregation in Atlanta, gives an awe inspiring sermon on science and the Heavenly Creator. It is amusing and impressive and shows us that the hand of God is everywhere around us.

I love the fact that in Genesis we get to see the gardener and artist in our Heavenly Father. After every precious thing that He made He looked at it and “saw that it was good.” It reminds me of myself, after a day of sweat and labor, leaning on the handle of my shovel looking at what I accomplished and feeling satisfied.

There are so many references in the Bible to plants, trees, fruit, flowers, and herbs it would be impossible to quote them all. One very special verse that Jerry reminded me of is:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2 NIV)

How awesome.

I will close with a verse that is most special to me and my family. A verse that is our foundation in good times and bad. It paints an incredible picture:

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.

He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)

Amen and Amen!!!

City Beautification

City hall

It makes me so happy to see cities and towns making their streets and sidewalks a thing of beauty. I’ve been proud of our little town of Alpharetta. When we first moved here, fifteen years ago, it was a pretty town with a beautiful town square, but nothing horticulturally exciting. In the past few years, fountains have sprung up, park benches line side streets, and huge decorative urns are everywhere.

I decided to go on a “field trip” with my camera and my hubby. I was lucky to pick a beautiful, mild, sunny day and a good-natured companion. I ended up having a lovely time and took some interesting photos.

After looking at the photos I took, I was struck by how important city streetscapes are to our lives. To walk through town and enjoy the plant life, trees and sculpture is a meditative thing. I’m so proud of the hard work of our city horticulturalists. They put together amazing plant combinations that bloom their hearts out.

Fountain

Planter

Planter

Fountain

City Hall

City Hall

Planter

Sculpture of children playing

City Hall

Planter

Fountain

Lipstick Colored Azaleas

AzaleaA post-summer cold, pre-fall sniffles. That’s what I have, sitting here with tissues stuffed up my nose. No fun.

I’ll have to be honest, these few weeks that we are in is not my favorite time of the year. Everything is weedy and seedy and droopy. Most color in the garden comes from a few resilient blooming annuals in pots, and even they look exhausted. I think when my back is turned they tap their feet and check their watch, wanting to know when this gig is over.

One of the few blooming shrubs that help me fill the gap is Encore azaleas. The flower color I picked is different from the normal white or pinky pink, it is a beautiful coral orange. If I was in a department store buying lipstick and found this color in a tube, it would make me sigh with delight!

The other thing I like is the shape of the flowers, kind of like a pin-wheel or star-burst and not the dainty flowers of the other azaleas. It screams here I am, look at me!

It blooms in the spring and in the fall, a double whammy. And it never ceases to remind me that very shortly everything will be lit up with fall color.  It blooms in the same color palette that the maple trees will soon have on their leaves. It revs me up for the fall color show.

Enjoy the gorgeous photos while I blow my nose. Love to all.

My Redheaded Gardening Hero

Why do I write a gardening blog? I have asked myself this question many times and I’ve also been approached recently by friends and acquaintances asking me the same question.

First of all, I have found something I love to do. Write. For many years I floundered, wondering what my talent was in this world. I wrote my first post with the idea that if I hated the process of writing I would stop and try something else. But, I have to say, I love it. I love words and the English language and expressing oneself well and then feeling proud of your work when you are done.

When I think of gardening and writing, I often think of Thomas Jefferson (also a redhead). He was not only one of our founding fathers of this nation but also a passionate gardener, architect, designer and writer. He wrote a journal about his gardening exploits that was later published under the title Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book. Although some parts are a little difficult to decode, it is a wonderful book that I enjoy getting from the library from time to time.

Jefferson wrote that some of his happiest times were spent in his garden at Monticello, his home in Virginia. The book is a mixed bag of many different things, such as lists of plants that he wanted to seek out, or vegetable seeds that he experimented with planting. Many times he wrote about the weather and how it affected the garden. Sometimes he wrote about problems he was experiencing in his orchard of fruit trees. Interesting stuff.

In one entry, Jefferson wrote about receiving seeds of the Cherokee rose from the governor of Georgia and planting them “in a row of about 6 f. near the NE corner of the Nursery.” Seeds! I loved turning the pages to find out if the seeds flourished. Rose seeds! Amazing!

The really inspiring thing to note is that Jefferson kept this journal of gardening records from 1766 to 1824, two years before his death. The journal was started before the Continental Congress and the Declaration of Independence with very few lapses up until his death. During this time he not only served as president but before that he served as George Washington’s Secretary of State. At one point, he wrote to President Washington trying to get out of serving:

“I have, therefore, no motive to consult but my own inclination, which is bent irresistibly on the tranquil enjoyment of my family, my farm, and my books.”

Jefferson’s letters to friends ran heavily with reports on seeds and soil, experiments with plants, and notice that he was sending them something. He would often put together boxes of seeds and acorns and ship them to a friend for planting in their own garden. Inside the package, his letter would tell in minute detail planting instructions.

Looking back, I like to think of Thomas Jefferson as the first Redhead Garden Writer. The ancestor to all of us garden writers. Maybe writing and gardening go hand in hand. Maybe this is why I write.

I would love to have seen Jefferson with a computer and the ability to research plants, order seeds online, and talk to fellow gardeners over the Internet. What a long way we have come!

If you have the ability to visit Monticello, I highly recommend doing so. It is open to the public and you can enter the house and walk through the beautiful gardens. They have a book shop and nursery filled with plants and seeds for sale. My lovely fig tree and Sweet William flowers were purchased on our visit.

For your enjoyment I have included a few notable quotes by this incredible man and gardener:

“There’s not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.” -Thomas Jefferson at the age of 43

“I’m still devoted to the garden…although an old man I am but a young gardener.” -Mr. Jefferson 25 years later

“I have often thought that if heaven had given me my choice of position and calling, it should have been on a rich spot of earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of the garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.” -Thomas Jefferson

The portrait of this great man at the top of this page was painted by Rembrandt Peale in 1800. The picture of Monticello was taken in 2010 by YF12s (CC-BY-SA).

Southern Magnolias and Southern Grandmothers

Whenever you think of the southern United States most people think of the movie Gone With the Wind and plantations, cotton fields, and mint juleps. No offense to Hollywood, but when I think of the glorious South with a capital S, I think of Magnolia trees. They represent the South in all of its gardening glory more than any plant or tree I can think of.

Magnolia flower

In fact, in my opinion, the Magnolia tree is the loving, sheltering grandmother of the gardening world.

I only had one grandparent, my maternal grandmother. My other grandparents had died by the time I was born, and my grandmother was the only example of the older generation that I had. And boy, was she a great example! She was a very loving, strong, kind, and God-fearing woman. She persevered the last 30 years of her life, living alone after her husband had died. She taught me so many things about life, love, relationships and God.

No one ever left her home hungry, sad, or without being prayed over. Even the robber, who broke down her door and was bleeding with cuts to his arm, was prayed for, by her, before he left out the door, carrying her valuables. She was a strong, resilient woman.

And just like my beloved grandmother, the Magnolia is strong, powerful, and resilient.

Within our town, we live very close to a wonderful park. It not only has play equipment for the kids to romp on, and, of course, the ubiquitous picnic tables. It also is an arboretum. Our little town has done a smashing job at planting countless trees of every kind. So many young 10 to 12 foot trees are there, planted for our kids and our kid’s kids to enjoy. But over in the front-probably planted 80 years ago-stands…

Two tall, magnificent, majestic old Magnolias. And just like a loving grandmother, they sit at the park with open arms to the children of our town. And when I say open arms, I really mean it. These Magnolias have the most wonderful branch structure I have ever seen. Perfect for tree climbing! In fact, my six-year-old would rather climb the tree than slide down the play equipment. The branches on a Magnolia grow so close to the ground and their leaves are so big and full, it hides any little visitor climbing within. Perfect for a child to feel as though they have their own little fort or house.

When planting a Magnolia, think long and hard before you do so. The classic evergreen Southern magnolia with large, glossy leaves and huge, fragrant white blossoms can grow gargantuan in size. The stiff, leathery leaves cannot break down in compost, so leaving them hidden under the low branches is a good option. Grass and groundcovers cannot exist under them due to the heavy shade they create. But if you have the space, it is a Southern iconic beauty. Just like my grandmother, God rest her soul.

Love to all and happy gardening!

(Note: I was unable to catch the magnolias in bloom while taking pictures for this article, so I used Alan Van Dyke’s image from the Wikimedia Commons at the top of the page. Thanks!)

Buddleia – My Shining Star

When we bought this lovely house and started gardening here, I was surprised by how well my butterfly bush performed year after year. I had never owned a buddleia before and never thought that much about them. It’s funny how the plant you don’t try that hard with ends up being a shining star in your garden.

I love the way it resembles a fountain of flowers behind my English style bird-feeder. I’m glad I planted it outside my breakfast room window. It’s wonderful to look out the window and see it in all it’s snowy glory. When I walk out on our deck, butterflies come and go, to and from the showy flowers, making a flight path over my head.

If you don’t have a buddleia, I highly recommend you acquire one. They come in many different colors and many are even fragrant. It has not been bothered by any pests and it tends to be rather easy to take care of.

Buddleias bloom on current season’s wood. In the late winter to very early spring, you must prune it almost all the way down to the ground. I generally prune it to approximately 1 to 1.5 feet tall. Over the course of the growing period it reaches 6 to 8 feet tall!  Deadheading the flowers is recommended, but due to the slope where mine is planted, I do not clip off the flowers. The last time I tried, I took a tumble down the slope and decided other gardening chores would be less dangerous.

In the future, I plan on trying other buddleia colors and forms. There are new dwarf forms and even some with orange flowers. I’m glad I chose a white variety. The white flowers shine beautifully at night with a full moon. Many times at dinner in our little breakfast room, you can look out and see the floating white flower-heads suspended on long branches. What a lovely view it brings to me and my family. Dinner and a show! Love to all and happy gardening!

Bits and Pieces and In-Between

I think I have entered that part of the season that I call “in-between.” Summer is coming to a close and Autumn is not really here yet. In the southern part of the United States, it is still very humid and hot! Our little ones are going back to school and fall clothes are still packed away, waiting for chilly weather.

In the garden, it’s a little like the end of a school play. Everyone has witnessed the drama and now everyone is standing around with a cup of punch and a cookie, waiting to go home.

A lot of my perennials have bloomed like mad and are now waning. Flowering trees have done their thing and are setting fruit. Due to the large amounts of rain this summer, some of my annuals didn’t get deadheaded properly, so they are underperforming. Weeds are unfortunately prolific, also due to the ongoing wet weather.

But…there are some interesting things going on.

My lemon grass grew to a huge size. The pictures below are of when I first bought it and today, respectively. I also made sure to use the exact same pencil for scale. I was warned that at the end of a season it could approach the size of a Volkswagen. I was unhappy with the taste of it. It was not pronounced enough for me. It might be due to the overwhelming amount of water it received.

I also noticed that a lot of my plants acquired red or orange leaves due to stress. I have seen this happen in a very hot, dry summer but never due to a deluge of rain.

My Meyer lemon has lots and lots of fruit. Just like the Italians, who grow citrus in pots and move them inside during the winter, I have lemons until the middle of December. People visiting around the Thanksgiving holidays, at first think they are fake. A holiday decoration. They are so sweet and luscious, I try to think of special things to do with them other than just using them for tea.

ZinniaZinnias are one of my favorite annuals and it performed well this year. When I see them, I always think of my oldest son, Nathan. He convinced me to grow them one year. I used to be a Zinnia snob, thinking they weren’t as sophisticated as salvias, roses and coneflowers. They won my heart, pumping out brightly colored discs. The butterflies and birds agree with me.

Catnip in the compostCatnip sprang up in one of my homemade compost bins. After witnessing how well it worked as a mosquito repellent (see my previous post), I didn’t have the heart to rip it out. I hope it reseeds itself around on the ground and anywhere else it wants to grow in the garden.

Gardening Through the Tears

Willow tree

My curly willow tree bit the dust.

I am always so supportive to other gardeners when they lose plants. I tell them that a dead plant is an opportunity to dig it out and try something new.

When I lose a plant, I can’t ever be that philosophical. I’m always upset. The time taken planting and getting it established. All that love and nurturing and watering.

It’s heartbreaking.

My husband said, “Don’t tell your readers you lost a plant!” But really I should tell you that. In gardening you win and you lose. Gardening is all about the dreaming, planning, expectations, loving, watering, feeding, hoping and then sometimes things don’t go as you expected.

I knew when I planted a willow they are notorious for being sickly, and catching every disease that comes by. But I fell in love with a willow I saw in another person’s garden. Their willow tree reminded me of an exotic Caribbean man with long curly branches like dreadlocks. I was sucked in by the exotic charm of it. I had to have one. Unfortunately, mine never flourished like the one I saw in another garden. It mostly limped along, sometimes being nursed through diseases, only to rally again and show a little promise.

You would think I would be glad to be done with it all. But I think I mourn not for what it was but what I dreamed it could have been. At some point soon, I will get excited about what to put in its place. But for right now, I am sad that I have to get out my saw.

Showers, Puddles, and a Deluge of Rain

Rain

Right now my life consists of doing things in between rain showers. And in between the showers we get thunderstorms. Any sunlight at all makes everyone in the family look up from what they are doing and exclaim, “Sun – oh, wow!”  I think you get the idea. It’s wet and has been wet for a couple of weeks!

My son arriving home from summer camp with a trunk full of wet clothes didn’t help raise our spirits, either. Hanging up a sopping wet sleeping bag only highlights how damp we already feel.

As gardeners, what can we do in rainy situations?

I have found it is best to wait it out and do your gardening chores when the weather dries out. You run the risk of compacting the soil if you garden in the rain or just after rainy episodes. Besides, trying to plant and dig holes in the mud just makes everything a pain. Also, the plant’s roots can have a hard time becoming acclimated in sticky mud.

With that said, I have been known to sneak outside after a rain shower and carefully pull weeds out of flower beds. The rain makes it easy to pull the little buggers out! I’m careful to stand on flat rocks or bricks placed strategically throughout the flowers. Hopefully, I’m not causing too much compaction.

I also take this time to notice any water accumulating in areas that may need addressing. Be especially careful to keep water away from house foundations. That could be damaging to the outside and inside of your home. Make sure planting beds slope away from your house for proper run-off. Keep your house gutters clean, too.

Wet leaf

If you can, don’t have any bare soil. Rain will compact bare soil and quickly deplete it of nutrients. Plants hold the soil in place and act as tiny umbrellas helping to avoid soil erosion. Plants also draw up water, reducing the run-off into sewers. If planting is not possible at the moment, put down mulch to help with erosion.

Make plans to put water barrels at gutter downspouts to catch rain water. We had a roofing company attach forked downspouts on our rain gutters. This ingenious contraption lets you flip a metal switch between your water barrel and your downspout. When a barrel gets full, you can flip the switch and let the water run out the normal course. I even attached a metal hook to a broom handle and I can reach the switch from an open window. The neighbors must think I’m crazy!

I have one last suggestion for rainy day gardening activities. Put together a garden planner. I did this one year and really enjoyed it. Taking care of children has kept me from repeating it year after year, but I really believe this can be a fun, helpful, endeavor.

I bought a very pretty but inexpensive calendar – book style – with several pages for each month. As the gardening season began that year, I made notes in my calendar of projects to do next year. Sounds kind of crazy, but if you garden long enough you begin to understand that a good bit of gardening is planning for next month or next season or next year.  Using a calendar enables you to “schedule” the idea within the appropriate month for that particular project. For instance, if your idea is to plant more daffodils, place it in the calendar in October for fall bulb planting. It helps you stay organized and have fun in the planning stage.

Let’s pray for drier weather. Have fun gardening!

Picture of a thunderstorm at the top of the post is courtesy of Bidgee and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

Mosquito Defense Update

A mosquitoI’m happy to update my previous post due to new information about the war on mosquitoes.

I hate mosquitoes. I think the little creatures came from the pits of hell to annoy us. I believe I have tried every possible solution to rid my garden from mosquitoes. I’m unlucky enough to have a chemical makeup that is allergically sensitive to their hateful bites, so when I am bitten the area around the bite swells to the size of a baseball.

In my previous blog post, I talked about many different ways of dealing with them. Sprays and lotions that contain DEET are reported to work well, but recently DEET has been reported to be a neurotoxin (damaging to the central nervous system). We need to stay away from products that are dangerous to our health. Citronella candles, tiki torches, and lanterns work well, but I have found you need quite a lot of them in a large area. Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes.

Now that I have pointed out dangerous and ineffective products, let me tell you about really successful things I have tried.

Catnip! Hooray for catnip! Yes, once again we find an incredible use for a herb! What an incredible group of plants. Herbs! Hooray for herbs! An article on Science Daily reported a scientific finding by researchers at Iowa State University. It turns out that catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. Why are we not hearing this shouted from the rooftops?! No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for catnip, although researchers are hopeful that will take place in the future. If subsequent testing shows the essential oil in catnip is safe for people, it should not be difficult to commercialize for an insect repellent.

I would like to offer up my own findings as a human guinea pig for the good of mankind and all mosquito haters worldwide. I have rubbed catnip all over myself in an attempt to try an experiment of my own. As you know, I love herbs, so I do have a pot of catnip growing beside our back deck. Does it work? Does it repel mosquitoes? Yes, yes it does! Once again our exceptional Creator has given us a plant to solve a problem. I have tried this experiment probably 12 times so far this summer. It really does work! And from experience it seems to last quite a long time, maybe even a couple of hours.

I have even felt safe putting it on my children. Many naturopaths suggest catnip tea for children with an upset tummy. My family and I have experienced no skin irritation or problems of any kind. I do recommend caution in trying this as everyone is different in their own chemical makeup, but I am really encouraged in how well this worked.

Herbs have microscopic oil glands all over their leaves and stems. These oil glands contain the natural chemicals which give the plant its particular scent. Simply rub the catnip leaves on your skin to release the oil from the plant. The oil will stick to your skin. It does not feel sticky or greasy like lotions and sprays.

I hope to see insect repellent made from catnip on our store shelves sooner rather than later. My plea to the scientific community: please, don’t take years to research this compound.

While we are on the subject of herbs, let’s talk about lemon balm. It is wonderful for mosquito bites. Rub lemon balm on a mosquito bite and it will reduce the itching and in my case some of the skin swelling associated with the bite. I suspect the oil in the lemon balm, the same one that makes it such a relaxing tea, helps as a sort of anesthetic on the bite. Another wonderful herb to solve a problem!

I’d like to comment on the ThermaCELL that hunters love to use. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. Our family bought this last year and tried it. It does work, and works well. I would recommend not sitting where you may breath in the repellent being dispensed into the air. As with any chemical repellent, it is a trade-off. I don’t like using chemicals, but I also hate being bit. Our family uses this about 6-8 times a year when we are having a barbecue or working on a large outdoor project, such as when my husband and I built our fruit cage. I recommend caution when using this, as it is a chemical.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. It’s effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: citronella oil, garlic, cedar oil, and lemon grass oil, among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone. The only down side to this product is scheduling. You must reapply after heavy rains, so schedule your application when you have at least 3-4 days of upcoming dry weather.

Things are looking up for mosquito sufferers everywhere! My sympathy to all the red, itchy bitten people out there. I know how rotten it feels. Try catnip and tell me what you think. Happy gardening!

Mosquito picture was taken by Alvesgaspar and is available on Wikimedia Commons.