Category Archives: Garden

Garden Art

Do you have more plants or more garden art? We have all been by the house that makes you stop to take the photo. There is so much of “this and that” that the whole yard looks more like a junk yard than an expression of art. So when do you know you have too many? Key number one is, when the plants still outnumber the art, you are in the okay zone. Once you have to start counting the number of iris fans in the bed to see if there are more plants or art, or if you start counting the grass blades, then you have too much garden art.

When you can no longer mow the yard.

If you can no longer mow your yard with a mower but must mow the whole yard with a weed eater – not for its size but rather for the number of gnomes or flamingos in the yard, you have a problem. If you keep the bulk of your garden art in the flower beds, you are most likely okay. If you still have more plants than art, see above. The real key here is to leave at least a few good sized areas for grass to grow without anything else. This helps you and it keeps the local neighbors from giving you the stare.

When you remodel and use the new found pots.

When you start to remodel, or are just driving by and you pick up what others have thrown away and make them into a pot, or pond. This might be a stove, fridge, sink, toilet, heater, scrap lumber, or bathtub. Over all, what matters here is not the object but rather the way it is put to use. The more of these in your art collection the more dire the situation. When you are out and about, you will find these things and you will want to take them home and plant in them. You might even have a burning passion to build a whole little kitchen or bathroom (with plantings in everything) in the garden. Just be careful to keep them in good taste and not let them outnumber the plants in the garden.

People stop–thinking it is a weekly yard sale.

If, week in and week out, people are at your door asking if you are having a yard sale, you have too much garden art. Likewise, if you are in the area and people stop, thinking you have a yard art store, you have way too much garden art. The real key here is to have it arranged in such a way that it doesn’t look like you must be having a yard sale. If this is an issue for you, then you might want to add a sign to your yard stating that the figures are not for sale.

You have a storage unit.

If you have a storage unit just for your out-of-season garden art, then you just might have too much! If you take things in and out of said storage unit each and every month, you know you have crossed the line with your garden art. The more time you have to spend taking in and out the season’s worth of art, the more time you are taking from the garden and that, my friends, is a sad thing indeed.

Only you can say when you have too much garden art. No one but you can know for sure. Family and friends look at most gardeners with their garden art and always tend to say there is too much if there is anything at all. So take all the above with a small grain of salt. If it makes you happy – Carpe Diem!

Ten Places to Add a House Plant

Looking around, a lot of us are lacking space for more plants inside the house and out! So what do you do when you have to start looking for new and unique places to place those new house plants? Here is a short top ten list!

  1. On the top of the cupboards. OK, so light might be hard to get up there and the space is limited. You need a step stool just to water. But really this is a great place to grow things. Right? You can add lights and water trays and you might have a wonderful new place for a few more plants to live.
  2. On the kitchen table. Do you really ever eat at the big kitchen table? Do you really have to eat there? You have room on top of and beneath it. All the chairs could be used for plant stands too! Just a great space to open up and use. What, you have to use the table? OK, why not make your plants the centerpiece!
  3. Bathroom. Add some grow lights and hooks or shelves and you have a great place for small growing, tropical plants. Want to get really into the fun? Try them in the shower too! They can really add that tropical feel to the whole event and make for a jungle in there.
  4. TV stand. Who has the time for TV? After all, if you are here on Dave’s what more do you need? So push the old TV out the door and have some fun watching the begonias grow! What is better than your very own tropical floor show! Add some pet tree frogs and there you have it a show that never stops and never sleeps.
  5. Guest room. Kids moving out? Spare room you try to leave for guests? Why not make this a plant space! Really, this is the way to go and, unlike leaving a bed there, the kids don’t want to move back in after they leave if their space is full of plants.
  6. Work out space. Let’s face the truth. If we garden, we don’t need to work out. So get rid of that wasted space and put some plants there. Spend the extra thirty minutes or so each day in the garden getting house plant pots ready and you have that work out done!
  7. In the sink! What do you really need the other half of the sink for? There are so many plants that could fill that space so much better than some old dishes. Just do your dishes in steps and there you go – half a sink for dishes.
  8. Window sills. Have you filled them all? Double check and find that empty spot in the middle of one somewhere. Go ahead – you know there is a little spot in one of the windows. What about adding shelves to the windows a little farther up, too? Might not hold big plants, but just a few more is all you really need.
  9. Hallways. Why waste all that hallway space? Put shelves up on one side, add some grow lights, and there you go! A whole other place for the plants you love to grow. This is the perfect spot for some of those dry soil loving plants since watering is going to be an issue here.
  10. Where you park the car. Garage, street or drive – that is space you can use! Add grow lights to the garage or throw up a portable greenhouse in the street or drive. Who knows, maybe even a plant or two in the cart also? You can always park a little farther away for the added plant room.

So there you go. Just when you thought you did not have any more room for plants, we have come up with more places you can use for plants.

I wonder if you can grow plumeria there

Every visit to sunny Florida resulted in yet another patch of grass removed and a few more plumeria sticks planted. I met people online who lived in the area, actually met some of them in person! Sticks were exchanged, varieties and their relative merits discussed, photos taken to compare. A great day was when you found a friendly person who would trade you a stick, the best day was when you found a beautiful blooming tree and the owner was willing (always!) to give you a piece.

When I was in England, I would dream of my garden in Florida. A fellow-addict would stop by and take pictures so I could watch them grow, and fertilize, so I would have blooms when I arrived, with more or less success. Having yearned for ages to see the wonderful variety known as ‘Mardi Gras’ bloom we had to return back to England when the inflorescence was about to show its first blooms. I was heartbroken!! We found ourselves spending more and more time in Florida, and after a few years we simply couldn’t stand it anymore and made a bold move: Southwest Florida, full-time!!

Sure there were other attributes to the Florida experience that we enjoyed. But for me – the ability to grow plumeria, in the ground, year round, was the biggest draw. No sooner had we moved here than I set about converting my suburban third of an acre into a tropical paradise. Grass was mercilessly removed until nothing but a token strip remained. Plants were sought and rejected on their ability to get along with plumeria.

By this time I had become active in several plumeria forums and made a number of friends. I had plumeria T-shirts, a plumeria pen, plumeria notebooks, a plumeria calendar. You get the idea! I have even had the great honor of having a plumeria named after me by a commercial grower.

And then the 2006 International Plumeria Conference in Galveston was announced and how could I possibly NOT go? All the ‘gurus’ were going to be there, and many plumeria aficionados I had talked with online for years would become real live people! I was not disappointed and I can safely say that my life changed that week. Growing Plumeria had now completely become my life’s focus!

Creating a Wildflower area if you have the space

In retrospect, we were lucky, many gardeners attempting a Wildflower meadow must use Round-up to kill all the grass, so I guess we were lucky!

We seeded the area by hand as the seeds aren’t cheap if you’re covering a large area. On a very cold February morning, we both took our seed bags and dumped them into more buckets of sand as it’s too easy for the winds blow the tiny seeds and also allows for even dispersal. We criss-crossed each other to make certain we had fairly even coverage. The sand was a blessing as it gave us some visual of where the seeds were being dispensed. Then began the nasty work of taking a roller that we filled with water and criss-crossed the same path over and over. Ensuring that your seeds are firmly planted in the sand, yet not buried in the soil is CRITICAL. The roller was heavy but after a few hours, the task was accomplished. It’s not something that could be done with any mechanization – just grunt work

Now for water – we hoped for rain or sleet and were lucky enough to get it, but my hopes were quickly dashed when a bright sunny day brought out the birds. I freaked out as I watched them swoop down over the tiny planted meadow. DH kept telling me that’s why you overseed, don’t freak. It just looked awful – this barren plot. I was sure our careful planning was going to come to nothing. Then, one April morning, the patch started looking green and not brown/sandy. There were tiny little plants that appeared everywhere; seemingly all at once!

Silly me, I tried to tiptoe in just once and pull some weeds. My husband Michael, quickly reminded me to stop and just let it happen; that there would be weeds that would co-exist with any Wildflowers that chose make an appearance. The tiny meadow got greener and greener. Every morning I would go and look at leaves – I recognized them! The cornflowers, the rocket larkspurs, the poppies, the cosmos, the verbana, the all of them! It was going to happen !! Then the plants all got to be about 5 inches tall – I was so, so excited! But no it was time to give it a haircut. This was very hard to do for several reasons. The thought of “pruning” what we’d waited for was torture, but as so many of the seeds were annuals, we knew they would be back. It gives the perennials in the mix more time to become established. You need to mow it by hand on a not wet day or you’ll just trample these tiny wildflower seedlings.

Our bluebird boxes were moved quickly so as to await their arrival and give them a real tiny meadow to raise their fledglings.

Little by little as the spring months came, so did the blooms we had long awaited

The wildlife came – the foxes cut paths through the cornflowers and the butterflies and bees were happy as could be.

As the months rolled by, the meadow started coming into it’s own and as fall approached, the coneflowers and black-eyed susans started to mingle with the annuals – it was an ever changing display and a true joy to watch. Long about late November, we mowed it down. The very next spring, we mixed annual seeds with the sand in buckets and did our thing again with the roller. The 2nd season of the meadow was about to begin and it was much better than the first.

Daisy Flowers In My Garden

I like daisies. I’ve always liked them. But up until this year I couldn’t enjoy their beauty, unless I bought them from the market. Daisies are so lovely! I don’t know why are they so ignored and usually considered wild flowers, not worthy of staying in line with the carnations, imperial lilies, gerbera, roses, or other florist flowers. I’ve never seen daisies at the florists in our country – only at the market – and that says it all!

The daisy’s name comes from an Old English word “daegesege” which means “day’s eye”, referring to their blooming at dawn and closing at dusk. The real daisy is a Chrysanthemum species, also called Oxeye daisy – in Latin, Leucanthemum vulgare. Another daisy species is Pyrethrum or Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium which grows wild on the fields.

I’ve made my garden with the plants and seeds I picked up myself from different places I visited or by exchanging with other gardeners. I always wished I had white daisies growing together with the yellow-red gaillardia and the yellow black-eyed Susan, but I never had the opportunity to find seeds or plants for trade. I was lucky to have pyrethrum growing on the field around my house, as well as helenium and wild asters, so I brought a clump of each in my garden, to replace the real daisies I didn’t have. For the same reason I even let the wild chamomile grow and bloom in my garden, but not for long because it grows too much and takes over. So I only enjoyed the blooms and then pulled it out.

Daisies and all daisy flowers are from the Asteraceae family – aster meaning star in Greek, after their flower’s shape. Plants in this family are also commonly referred to as the aster, daisy or sunflower family. Asteraceae family is one of the largest family among the angiosperms (flowering plants). No wonder that so many flowers have the daisy-like shape! Since I like them so much, I managed to find seeds from many daisy flowers. From spring to fall, they’re blooming and changing from one month to another, cheering my garden. In May the pot marigolds and gaillardias are starting to bloom for the summer, then the rudbeckias in June, and later, in July, the sunflowers and zinnias.

Starting September, asters are taking over, then the daisy mums in October.

April was the only month without daisy-like blooms, but this spring I had it covered because I had lots of real daisies blooming, to my delight. I never used to buy seeds from the store, but I started with the daisy seeds. I sowed the seeds in several spots of my garden last spring and they grew over last summer, then came back after the winter and started to bloom this spring. I still remember a tip from the seed package, “deadhead daisies, otherwise they will take over of your garden”. I did that, but I missed a few which made me understand that warning : daisies are self-sown plants, very invasive, so now I have more little daisies popping out from those missed seeds. Lucky I have many friends who would love to have daisies in their gardens! I already have orders for a few clumps. These beautiful flowers will cheer up more gardens and more people, not only for their beauty, but also for the fun they can bring in people’s life. According to some sources, daisies symbolize innocence and purity, and also new beginnings, “loyal love” or ” I will never tell”. Daisies are also the lovers’ favorite plants for playing the “He loves me, he loves me not” game, by ripping off one petal after another from one daisy flower. According to where it stops – at “he loves me” or at “he loves me not”- he or she finds out whether their lover loves them truly – or not! Almost everytime, if the game stops at “he loves me not” , the lover takes another flower and starts again – I know that very well, I did that too! If you are at the beginning of a new love and are wondering whether your lover loves you or not, this is the way to find out. Just go and find some daisies, then start playing. You’ll love it and it’ll be such fun!

Lamb’s ears

I went to a one room school for my first 4 grades, but it was a large room divided by folding doors, so in truth it had the Little Room and the Big Room. Four grades were in one, and four grades were in the other. My mother happened to be the principal of the school, and she taught in the Big Room. I was in the Little Room.

Being the principal’s daughter did not have its privileges. I was to follow all rules, I was to stay clean, and I had to act like a lady at all times. Well. In the first place, I rambled around the mountains with Aunt Bett from early spring till late fall, and I was not known to come home with clothes, hair and body intact. I had walnut stains on my hands, orange dye in my hair and pokeberry tattoos around my belly button. And I drank chicory with Uncle Dock. But in school I had to be a little lady.

It was my mother’s fault. She made my dresses out of flowered fabric, lace on the collar, ruffles around the bottom, bows in my hair, and white socks. Always white socks.

The school building was perpendicular to the creek which ran beside the road, so there was a walk bridge that we crossed to get from the road to the schoolground. We played hop scotch, jump rope and marbles in the front yard of the school, so there was no grass. In the back yard the boys had a basketball hoop, and there was no grass there either. Sometimes when we had secret things to tell our friends it was not unusual to sneak down the bank and hide under the walk bridge to have some privacy. Or to make mud pies. Or to float leaf boats. I considered that quite creative. It was even more creative to sit down on our bottoms and slide down the bank; a lot more fun, too.

We played troll under the bridge, and hid from the boys. Growing there along the bank was a wonderful crop of lamb’s ears with its soft furry leaves that I loved to touch. Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) grew all over the mountains, they had big fuzzy leaves at the base and as it grew upward, each plant formed a spike that bloomed thickly in pink or purple flowers. I didn’t care about the flowers but I did love those fuzzy leaves.

There were always lamb’s ears growing in Aunt Betts garden, and many times when I had lost a battle with a bee Aunt Bett would grab a handful of dirt and slop a little water into it, mix it in her hands and slap it on my bee sting. That kept me quiet long enough for her to run to the bunch of lamb’s ears and tear off one of its soft fuzzy leaves and wrap it around the bee sting. The leaf was held in place with a string or whatever she had handy. It took the sting right away, and by the time we finished the garden chores and got back to her house, it was as if the bee never stung at all. So I knew all about lamb’s ears. By the time I was almost 8, I knew a lot about many things, and I considered myself the Assistant Mountain Medicine Woman.

Back to school, now, and it was the beginning of a new year. Again my mother tried really hard to make a lady of me. I wore my white homemade dress that had tiny blue flowers on it. White lace trimmed socks, blue ribbons in my hair, and probably white Mary Janes. My mother should have known better. I got to school intact. I even made it through spelling and arithmetic, then a bee buzzed in through one of the open windows, and landed right smack on the back of Joe Devlin’s dirty neck. Joe Devlin sat in front of me because if he had sat behind me he would have put chewing gum in my hair, as he had done on more than one occasion.

I calmly watched the bee sting happen. He yelled and slapped his neck, just making the bee a whole lot madder. It stung again, and he yelled again. “I can save him,” I yelled, and ran out of the classroom, down the steps, and slid on my bottom straight down to the creek. I grabbed a handful of mud in one hand, and a big leaf from the lamb’s ears in the other. I scampered back up the bank and ran lickety split back to the classroom. Joe Devlin was still yelling, my teacher’s mouth was still hanging open and everybody else was wide eyed watching Joe Devlin jumping up and down in the aisle. I slapped the mud on Joe Devlin’s neck and while he stood in shock (from the slap, I guess) I grabbed one of my hair ribbons with my muddy hand, slammed the lamb’s ear leaf on the back of his neck and tied it in place with the blue hair ribbon. It looked a little like a leash, so I tied it in a bow on the front of his neck. I hope you get the picture, Joe Devlin, a lamb’s ear leaf across the back of his neck, a blue ribbon complete with bow tied around his neck, mud dripping down his shirt collar. And then there was my mother, who somehow entered the scene while I was saving Joe Devlin’s life.

She took my arm and walked me up to the desk where my teacher was still sitting, mouth still open. Then without a word my mother turned me around to face my classmates. Then she turned me back around to face my teacher. The kids giggled, my teacher covered her open mouth with her hand, and Joe Devlin quit yelling. The back of my legs including my underwear and the skirt of my dress was covered in dirt and grass stains. Somewhere I had lost one of my Mary Janes, and I had a muddy sock. I had one loose ribbonless braid. The front of my dress where I carried the mud….well, I think you can imagine.

Then Joe Devlin started yelling again, “You ain’t no medicine woman, I’m tellin’, I’m tellin’ and my Ma she’s gonna come git ya for hurtin’ my beesting.” I simply refuse to remember the rest of it. Bits and pieces of a willow switch come to mind, along with a lecture to Aunt Bett later that evening, with me in attendance. I do remember sitting outside on the little porch in my muddy clothes for the rest of the school day and well into the evening waiting for my mother to finish her chores, and to send a letter home with Joe Devlin explaining what had happened and apologizing for the misbehavior of her daughter.

Joe Devlin’s mother never showed up at school, and there was no sign of the beesting on the back of his neck the next day when he sat in front of me after my apology to him in front of the entire classroom. I missed several recesses the rest of that week, and was never allowed anywhere near that creek again. I did save Joe Devlin’s life, even if I was only an assistant mini mountain medicine woman. Aunt Bett told me so.

The Tennessee Coneflower

In 1979, the Tennessee Coneflower became one of the first plants to be added to the Endangered Species List.

It has been speculated that an ancestral Echinacea species spread into middle Tennessee during the hypsothermal period following the last Ice Age. Conditions at that time would have been drier with prairies extending into much of the central eastern U.S. Those prairies are now covered by forests. As conditions became wetter, Echinacea populations became more isolated within the prairie-like habitat of the cedar glades that were eventually surrounded by forests. This isolation resulted in a divergence and speciation of E. tennesseensis. Tennessee coneflower is one of the plants that only thrives in the cedar glades of central Tennessee.

Tennessee Coneflower is an herbaceous perennial plant that can reach up to 30 inches in height.Alternate hairy basal leaves surround the stems. The pink to purple blooms range up to 3 inches wide with divided rays. The genus name Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin. This references the spiny copper center cone found on the majority of flowers in this genus. The plant has has no serious disease or insect problems although Japanese beetles and leaf spot may occasionally be troublesome.

In my yard, the bright pink to light purple flowers crown the plant from the middle of spring until mid-autumn. Unlike the flowers of other Echinaceas which have petals that droop downward, petals of this species are upturned and cup-like. The hairy, dark green leaves are distinctive and cluster around the lower part of the stems. Flowers appear as early as mid-May and often last as late as October. Flowering reaches a peak during June and July.

The flowers of this plant differ from other coneflower species in that the tips of the rays are upturned rather than reflexed downward. The color is deeper and brighter than most other coneflowers. In its native habitat, the plant sends a long tap root down into cracks in the ground in order to locate better soil and to find moisture below the rocks of the three cedar glades where it lives. Most tree are unable to grow in this shallow soil consisting mostly of exposed bedrock. However, the red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) grows at the edges of these glades in cracks in the bedrock where the roots can gain a foothold. Tennessee coneflowers will not grow well and thrive in a location covered by more than 50% shade.

Reproduction of the plant occurs by cross-pollination with other plants. This is achieved by insects like bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies. The Tennessee Coneflower appears to lack effective methods of dispersing its seeds thus restricting the plant’s ability to colonize. As indicated by the common name, this coneflower is endemic to Tennessee alone where it is limited to five sites located within approximately 105 miles of Nashville.

Currently, the greatest threat to the Tennessee Coneflower is the destruction and alteration of its habitat due to residential, commercial, and industrial development, road-building, heavy grazing by livestock, off-road vehicle use, and encroaching vegetation. The plant has been over-collected for ornamental use as well as for its perceived medicinal benefits. Although there are many suitable glades in Middle Tennessee, this particular species of coneflower is restricted to only a few of them due primarily to its difficulty colonizing. 

Populations on state land are managed by the Tennessee Department of the Environment and Conservation and/or the Tennessee Division of Forestry. The Nature Conservancy owns two sites that support the species. Some private landowners have made agreements with the State of Tennessee to help preserve the plant. Tennessee Coneflowers have been transplanted to the Cheekwood Botanic Garden in Nashville as well as the Warner Nature Center. They are also growing in a number of home gardens like mine.

Unfortunately, yellow puts me to sleep.

I know yellow is the color of sunshine, peace, love, happiness and all that, but I just don’t care for it. There’s just too much of it and it’s EVERYWHERE. Wikipedia says yellow is the most common color for flowers.

Practically the first flower to emerge out of snow and mud is the hated dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). Every late winter, enjoying the sea of little gold flowers, I mentally wonder what the world has against dandelions. And every year I remember soon enough, as we spend the year digging up tenacious dandelion roots and watching white puff-balls blow millions of fertile dandelion seeds everywhere.

Whitman thought dandelions were innocent? Most of us realize that they’re anything but. They have a scheme to take over your land via underground stolons. Beware!

In February, many people cut a few forsythia branches to “force” indoors. In March, when the first forsythia blooms burst forth from what used to look like dead sticks, it is indeed exciting, for a minute. But when my yard and every other yard on the block are full of forsythia, some healthy, vigorous and well-pruned and some languishing or pruned within a branch of their lives, forsythia seems awfully common. There are plenty of more unusual early spring bloomers.

When I say common, I mean in the sense of “average, ordinary, garden variety.” Dandelions are a common lawn weed and forsythia is a common attempt at landscaping an empty yard.

Daffodils come soon after forsythia, often before the snow has completely melted. They are also traditionally yellow. I planted white ‘Thalia’ daffodils, which bloom later than standard yellow ones, and increase yearly.

The poet, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) famously wrote of “crowds” of daffodils (above), but I think more in terms of gangs of daffodils. Careful planting of early- mid- and late-blooming varieties can give you a steady supply of golden daffodils from March until late May, should that be your wish.

Late April-early June sees hundreds and thousands of buttercups in the lawn. There are some 600 species of Ranunculus, many of which are called “buttercup.” Whichever flower you call a “buttercup,” it is yellow and native to where it grows. As children, we held buttercups up to each others chins and said “do you like butter?” Of course, everyone did. My yard is freckled with dots of buttercup.

By the time actual summer begins, after the solstice in June, yellow has taken over my yard. I didn’t always dislike yellow; there is archeologic evidence in the Coreopsis I planted years and years ago. My Coreopsis refuses to be restricted to one bed or one part of the yard, and splashes its drippy, melted butter color here and there. It has been spreading steadily, inexorably.

I also planted Achillea or yarrow too long ago to remember, a yellow, weedy variety of Achillea all along the path. (There are other yarrows which are white or attractive reds and pinks; but not for me.) It has spread too, sunny circles of sunshiny golden goodness spreading throughout the dreary world. Grrrr. I even find yarrow volunteers in the back, which is supposed to be my haven from yellow.

I have forgotten why we planted black-eyed Susans, which blot the street-side of the yard with a smear of mustard-y yellow beginning toward the end of July. Black-eyed Susans are allegedly named for a Robert Burns poem about a person named “Susan”, although the poem was probably written after the flower had acquired its name.

In July comes an onslaught of Stella D’Oro dayliles. There are certainly other yellow daylilies, but only Stella D’Oro (also called Stella Doro and Stella de Oro, meaning star of gold) is equally comfortable at a gas station foundation planting or hanging out at the mall. The first truly re-blooming daylily, Stellas are unbelievably sturdy and do, in fact, have flushes of rebloom off and on all summer. However there now exist many other reblooming daylilies that should be considered. Reblooming daylilies come in lots of colors, and now you can have a whole yard full of sporadically reblooming daylilies in a rainbow of colors. And you can certainly omit golden ones.

August sees all kinds of hideously yellow flowers in bloom, like sunflowers, yellow ‘purple coneflowers’ and cosmos. I just don’t grow those because, well, they’re often yellow. By the time I planted Helenium, I was actively looking for non-yellow cultivars. I liked Helenium as a nod to my sister Helen, as well as a reliable, easy-care, late summer bloomer. Most of the Heleniums available are yellow, however, but I traded with another Dave’s gardener for seeds to “Ruby Tuesday’ Helenium (which, as you can guess, is mostly red and not yellow).

There are fields of yellow marigolds and formal plantings of yellow canna lilies. It is really a difficult time for those of us who dislike yellow. (There must be others, right, it’s not just me?) Even the weeds are yellow!

For painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), yellow was a favorite color, maybe because there were, in the late 19th cenury, novel, more stable versions of yellow paint to use. His famous series of paintings of Sunflowers (one is below left) were painted in 1888 against a yellow background while he lived in a “Yellow House.”

Pets, Wildlife and Parasites in the Soil

This article is about the potential dangers of soil if you are not the only one ‘using’ it.

Some people love the feel of the garden dirt in their hands as they weed or work the soil. Do you always know what’s in the soil, or who’s been there before you? Pets and wild animals often find garden soil a perfect ‘litter pan’ and will deposit their ‘leftovers’, sometimes burying them well so the evidence is not always clear. This animal fecal matter can contain all sorts of potential pathogens, but the most serious of which are the internal parasites some of these animals might be infected with. Though not all are zoonotic (contagious to people) some are and some are potentially very dangerous. The following article is a discussion of some of these potential problems one might encounter in their garden soils.

As a veterinarian I am often reminding pet owners to wash their hands after cleaning the litter box or handling their pet’s droppings. We routinely deworm for a number of parasites that are common among pets, some of which are very important zoonotic creatures. Round worms, hookworms, tapeworms and a variety of protozoan parasites can be present in your pet’s stools and some of these are problems if you happen to ingest them yourself. And wildlife such as skunks and raccoons can add their own mix of possible parasite zoonoses to the garden soils. Most of the time my comments to clients are directed at their children, as most adults are a bit more cautious and aware of animal fecal matter and much more likely to clean up after handling it. But children can end up playing in sand boxes or garden soil that was previous used by their cat, a neighbor’s cat, the dog, or some other animal that was visiting the garden overnight. And some adults like to garden without gloves in areas of the garden these animals might have frequented.

Round worms, or Ascarids, are very common parasites in dogs, cats and some wild life. These parasites, as is true with all those discussed in this article, have a direct life cycle, meaning all one has to do is eat the eggs laid by the worm and the next host will get the infection (no intermediate host needed as is the case with some parasites). We routinely deworm all cats and dogs in my practice for this parasite as it is ubiquitous, particularly in nursing mothers and their puppies.Roundworms are not difficult to get rid of in a dog or cat, but their eggs are quite durable and can survive in the environment for a long time (years). All a dog or cat need do is ingest some stool or contaminated dirt (or lick off their paws after stepping in some stool) and they get the infection.Round worms travel about their bodies, hiding in lung or liver tissue, and then moving to the intestines to lay eggs and make more worms. This traveling through tissues in the proper host causes very little problems as the round worms have evolved to live relatively ‘peacefully’ in the proper hosts. Human incidental ingestion of these eggs (from not washing hands properly, for example) can lead to something called visceral larval migrans. This is when the little larvae find themselves in the wrong host (us) and ‘get lost’. They can end up just about anywhere (liver, lungs, eyes or brain) and cause problems wherever they go. If they end up in the eye or brain, they can cause severe neurologic problems that can be very difficult to treat, and often cause permanent damage (blindness, brain damage etc.). Raccoon and skunk roundworms are just as bad if even not more dangerous, and these can do the same sorts of damage to our own pets as they do to us, as your dog, cat or rabbit are the incorrect hosts for those species (a good reason to try to keep raccoons and skunks out of your yard). So wash your hands well if you garden barehanded!

Abelia is a tough workhorse that keeps the show going through the blistering heat and humidity.

When summer heat and humidity arrive, many shrubs switch to ‘survival mode’ and hunker down until more agreeable temperatures set in. Not so with abelia. This tough little shrub thrives through whatever summer throws its way. This Asian native blooms from late spring through summer and even sporadically up until frost. It is a member of the Caprifoliaceae family which includes the honeysuckles, so it is no surprise that it has a nice fragrance and attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the tubular flowers. In fact, many beekeepers plant it on purpose to keep their hives fed. Bambi doesn’t find it particularly tasty, so it is an excellent choice if deer plague your property.

Abelias make an excellent choice for foundation plantings because they bloom on new wood. Homeowners can keep them neat and tidy around their home and still be guaranteed a lovely show. Prune in early spring for summer blooms. They are pretty much care-free and seldom have any pest problems. Many churches and banks in my town use them because they look nice all year and are low maintenance. New foliage is bronze and is evergreen to semi-evergreen, depending on how far north or south you are. Abelias are even somewhat salt-tolerant, so make a good choice for coastal gardens as well.

There are several types of abelias, however the most popular seems to be the Abelia x grandiflora, which is an hybrid cross between A. chinensis and A. uniflora. There are a number of named cultivars with various attributes such as variegated foliage and dwarf growth habits, so there’s sure to be one that is a good fit for your property. Some grow to barely 3 feet tall, while others top out at about 6 to 8 feet, however any of them can be pruned to keep them tidy in their surroundings, just be sure to prune in early spring before the new growth emerges. They look best when allowed to maintain an airy, arching form, but I’ve seen hedges of abelias too. Just remember to prune a hedge back further than you want to to grow in late winter to allow it to bloom. Plant your abelia in full sun to partial shade and water well for its first year. After that, it should be somewhat drought-tolerant, but bear in mind that there will be fewer blooms when the plant is under stress. It also does best when planted where it is sheltered from the wind. Here at my home, that is along my eastern foundation. They are sheltered from the west winds and I have sun on those beds until about 1pm. Abelias are hardy from USDA Zones 6 through 9, but since they bloom on new wood, even if they freeze to the ground in harsh winters, you’ll still have a nice show each spring.

These shrubs are a bug magnet, so be prepared to see many species of bees, insects and butterflies around them. They are an excellent choice for a pollinator garden. I’ve even used the slender branches with my cut flower arrangements and they look great mixed with summer flowers. Abelias are pretty much a win-win situation in the garden and provide an attractive and carefree show each summer.