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.

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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.

Hedges – Let’s Try Something Different

Sometimes we need privacy in our garden. To hide away from the world. I have found it is important to my soul to have privacy in my garden. I call it “marinating in serenity.” I love to walk around the garden and look at what is currently blooming or have a pep-talk with a rose bush that is looking sickly. Another prominent gardener that I admire calls it “getting lost to oneself.” This can not be done with a neighbor strolling over to gossip. Or the cable man gawking from his truck across the street. Therefore, hedges are what we need!

The English love to make “garden rooms” with tall privacy hedges of holly or hornbeams. In my part of the country, people love to make hedges with Leyland cypress. They sometimes end up looking like a row of green soldiers standing next to each other. Variety is the spice of life. Why can’t we all think outside of the box and come up with something different?

Viburnum shrubs with Jamie

These are three viburnums I have along my fence. My youngest son Jamie is in the picture for size reference, he is six years old.

My neighborhood rules state that our fences cannot be over 6 feet tall. I wanted something taller, due to the unusual height differences in the ground around our garden. I decided to plant a hedge that was unusual and something not often seen. I chose the Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’ for its beautiful blooms in spring. This is a hedge I have never seen before and it reaches a height of almost 12 feet tall. Even though the Viburnum loses its leaves in the winter, the twiggy branches that are left make a nice screening.  The tags that came on the plants said they would reach 5 feet. I knew this was not true due to the research I had done. The nice thing about this shrub/tree is that you can limb it up. In other words, you can remove the bottom branching up to 4 or 5 feet from the ground. This turns it into more of a tree that you can plant flowers underneath. I always try to put the right plant, in the right place. By placing them in front of my fence, I didn’t mind how big they got. I had hope they would grow large. And of course, they did.

Viburnum flowersThe following is a short list of other ideas for hedging material. I tried to think outside of the box.

Camellias, Tea Olives, Roses (Rugosa), Hydrangea (Annabelle), Bottlebrush Buckeye, New Dawn Roses (attached to supports), Magnolia (Little Gem)