f Morning Rose Prayer Gardens: 01/01/2012 - 02/01/2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012


(Originally ran in Jackson Citizen Patriot Newspaper 6/10/10)

                I remember as a child the sweet fragrance and stunning colors of the species Iris germanica, or Bearded Iris. I can still recall my first encounter when I was about six; I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk as a wave of fragrance surrounded me and sniffing, followed my nose.
There, just a few houses up, grew a garden filled with fans of blue-green leaves topped with a rainbow of sturdy flowering stalks. The neighbor woman, whose garden it was that I had just invaded, told me they were Bearded Iris and showed me the fluffy ‘beard’ on the petals. She then gave me a stalk of deep purple blooms that smelled like grape bubblegum. I was hooked!
                Over the years I have come to love the wide assortment of Irises. From the earliest blooming dwarfs to the big boys late in the season. Bearded Irises are long lived, sturdy, fairly drought tolerant and easy to grow, requiring little maintenance. Usually planted in late spring or early summer, they prefer full sun but will tolerate light shade; too much shade and they will not bloom. Grow in well drained garden soil; they will falter in heavy clay, an area that remains wet or when covered with mulch.
                Irises grow from thick fleshy rhizomes that must be partially exposed to the sun. One end of the rhizome has the leaves; it is from this end that they spread. When planting, face this end into the garden to prevent its growing into edging or other areas.
                When planting a bare-root rhizome, the division end must be dried over to prevent bacterial rot. Dig a shallow donut-like trench with a mound in the middle. Place the rhizome on the top of the mound so that 1/3 of the rhizome will be above soil level and exposed to the sun. Spread the thick roots inside the trench and back-fill with soil.
                If you buy Irises from a greenhouse make sure they are properly potted with 1/3 of the rhizome exposed. Plant like any other flower making sure the rhizome is slightly above the rest of the garden soil. Because Irises have thick roots, don’t be surprised if the potting mix falls away when you remove the plant.
                To encourage a nice set of blooms, keep the soil moist but not wet just prior to flowering. To encourage Reblooming Iris to re-flower they should be watered as needed throughout the growing season. The rebloomers do much better in a garden that is watered regularly whereas single season bloomers are excellent in dryer areas.
Deadhead flowers singly from the main stalk, removing the spent flowering stalk by cutting it a couple of inches above the rhizome. In the fall cut the leaves back to 6-8” in an inverted-V.
There are very few pest and disease issues with this sturdy perennial. Bacterial soft rot, crown rot, fungal leaf spots, and Iris borer may occasionally become problematic. To reduce the occurrence of leaf spots and borers, remove and destroy any old leaves, stems and plant debris. With bacterial and crown rots remove, and do not compost, all infected plant parts to avoid the spread of these diseases.
After 4-5 years divide the Irises; this is usually done 4-6 weeks after flowering. Cut leaves down to one-third their length, dig up the clump and remove soil. Snap or cut the rhizomes apart so each section has at least one healthy fan of leaves, a firm rhizome and white roots. Allow the cut end of rhizome to dry for 48 hours before replanting.
With very little care Bearded Iris will live on for generations.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Colorful Plant Catalogs
(Column originally ran 1/20/11, Jackson Citizen Patriot)

I love seed catalogs; they evoke such hope! I peek at them quickly as they come into the house then set them in a basket next to my reading table. When I have a block of time, which is easier to find in the winter, I pick up the stack and snuggle into my chair. With my feet up, and a cup of tea, I peruse their colorful pages and dream.
And that is when I, and most of my gardening friends, get into a world of trouble. I have learned over the years that it is easier to abstain than to moderate. Today I am going to try and help you moderate the length of your purchase order form.
It’s true that it’s less costly to grow plants from seeds than to buy them in flats. But most of us don’t have grow-tables in our homes and instead use tables next to windows with southern exposure. So first consider the available space in your home for trays of seedlings…and don’t forget about pets or kids assaulting your growing efforts.
Besides the space in your home, consider the space in your garden. Can you really plant three kinds of cucumbers, four different heirloom tomatoes, and a dozen herbs? Is there enough space for five kinds of blue flowers, and are they honestly going to be as blue as the pictures? You know darn well that if all the seeds germinate you’re going to have a hard time tossing the extras into the compost pile.
With so many options, consider purchasing only new varieties of old favorites. I love cucumbers and can buy one or two plants at local greenhouses. But what I can’t buy locally are the lovely round Lemon Cucumbers, so I’ll order the seeds. Marigolds grow well and many of my favorites are also found at nearby growers, except the airy 30” ‘Cottage Red’. So I’d order these seeds too.
Consider growing a new plant that was just introduced into the market and offers a twist, such as the small cherry tomato ‘Green Envy’. This new introduction is super sweet, never turns red and would be wonderful in salsa or soups.
Rule of thumb: don’t take up precious space growing plants you only need a few of and can buy locally.
Another thing to consider is the level of difficulty germinating seeds. I have the darndest time holding onto seeds to scarify them with sand paper or (yikes!) a knife. And using a heating pad under a flat of ‘Bells of Ireland’ to keep them warm is not the most brilliant of ideas no matter how many layers of protective plastic used.
Rule of thumb: check instructions for propagation method. If it’s only one sentence long, and contains the words ‘easily germinated’, go for it.
And speaking of instructions, double check references for growing conditions; many catalog suppliers really stretch the truth. Not only about what Zone a plant will grow in, but also the size of the flower or its invasive tendencies.
Rule of thumb: get suspicious when plants have extremely close-up pictures of flowers, descriptive words like vigorous grower or naturalizing, or suggest they grow well in a protected site.
Take a little time to discern how you’ll spend your gardening dollar, and you may be able to use your dining room for dining this spring.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Summer, originally appeared CWG Blog 5/2011

Amazing Grace
I look at the pattern on the top of a pine cone and am fascinated by its rhythmically increasing woody scales. I notice the fiddleheads of the ferns and their identical unfurling symmetry. A few steps away I take a closer look at the sweet woodruff and it's whorled leaves clasping the stem, perfectly and evenly spaced.
Standing there in the not-yet-shaded area of my garden I remember undergraduate years and all the mathematics requirements. It was a challenge to make sense of problems that involved angles, gradients, percentages and tangential increases; physics was my nemesis. I remember one particularly erratic trigonometry professor who had thick wire rimmed glasses, full beard, and (to complete the look of insanity) long bushy black hair. He told us one day in class that he couldn’t look anywhere without numbers and angles and formulas clouding his vision. I wondered back then if this irregular-kind-of-guy saw his mathematics as a god.
NYU, Courant Institue fo Mathematics, K.L. Ho
Returning to the present, I look again at the top of the pine cone held in my hand. I never expected to find arithmetic in my garden. I think I now understand more fully the unstable professor’s insight of God in mathematical formulas, in the amazing grace of rhythm and symmetry and incremental patterns of growth.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Indoor Gardening

Fresh Lettuces and Sprouts

                Most of us start the New Year with resolutions to eat healthier. Why wait until May or June to fulfill this commitment with fresh produce? There are a lot of seeds you can grow indoors such as sprout or leafy lettuces. And sprouts contain some of the highest concentrations of nourishment of any food source with things like anti-oxidants, protein, enzymes, fiber, numerous vitamins, and more!
The most common seeds used for sprouting is alfalfa, but you can also grow lentils, barley, broccoli, cabbage, mung beans (crunchy), peas, radishes (zippy), soy beans, sunflower, and wheat (sweet). Do not use seeds packaged for the garden; they are treated with chemicals. Health food stores carry an assortment of seeds for sprouting. Lentils can be found at any grocery store.
To sprout seeds all you need is a glass quart jar, a piece of cheesecloth with a jar ring or rubber-band to hold the cloth on, or a screened lid, about 1 tablespoon to ½ cup seeds and water.
For lentils or mung beans: rinse ¼ cup seeds with tepid water a couple of times and then place in jar, covering with about an inch of water, attach cheesecloth/screening. Place jar in a warm dark kitchen cabinet for 12 hours. Then take and drain off the soaking water, rinse seeds with tepid water and drain well. Replacing the cheesecloth/screening and gently lay jar on its side to distribute seeds evenly, returning to the cabinet.
       Once or twice a day for the next three to five days, rinse and drain seeds. They will begin to sprout in a day or two and when they are about an inch or more long, they’re ready to eat; consume within four days.
Growing lettuces is even easier! The clear plastic clam-shell boxes used for food are perfect germination trays; punch several holes in the top for ventilation before you begin. If you have black plastic flats for growing under lights, you can use these as well; cover with clear kitchen wrap, also punched with holes, supported by Popsicle sticks if the flats did not come with lids.
Using a sterile potting mix, not soil or manure, place about an inch in the bottom of the tray and mist with water until evenly moist.  Sprinkle lettuce seeds on top as you would if you were using salt or pepper. Sprinkle a bit more potting mix, no more than ¼ inch over seeds, mist heavily and cover. Place in a warm South-facing window or under grow lights for 12 hours per day. Check daily to be sure growing medium remains evenly moist; if too wet mold will form. Remove clear cover as planst mature.
The first cutting will be ready in three to four weeks, a second cutting in two more weeks. If space allows, plant trays in succession at one a week for four weeks. To harvest, tip tray sideways over kitchen strainer and snip off greens one inch up from base. Return tray to light source for a second harvest in about 12-14 days.