My husband occasionally plants trees as part of his job. All over the world. Is he an international arborist? No, he's an engineer by trade, a corporate VP who is often present at new facility openings, when trees are planted to help dedicate the building.
Back in November when I was learning about the future trends and issues of horticulture at a symposium in frigid Minnesota, he was planting a tree in India. One of the topics at the symposium was "plant blindness". The speaker joked that one type of plant blindness happened when her husband let one of her houseplants die while she was out of town. She asked him about the dead plant when she returned and he asked "which one?"
Naturally when my husband told me about the dedication tree he planted in India, I asked, "what kind?"
"Uh, a nice tree", he responded. I sighed, "Oh no, plant blindness" and preceded to tell him about this horrible affliction suffered by so many. He said, "Wait a minute, it was a palm tree." Good save, dear. In fact, he then told me about the strings of colorful chrysanthemums that decorated the hallways of the new building for the ceremony. Bonus points.
However, an alarming number of people cannot identify even the most common plants that populate their communities. Move beyond roses and daisies and most people cannot name the plants they encounter during their day-to-day migrations between work, school, shopping, etc.
Recognize this important plant?
Sad, but true that for so many, plants are just the background screen to their lives; green blobs that form background noise, wallpaper, whatever you want to call it. Why is this?
Modern man doesn't have to rely upon correctly identifying berries, before he eats them from a plastic container, to avoid being poisoned anymore. We are removed from the multitude of plant-based decisions and processes that used to confront our ancestors.
When I walk the streets of Savannah, my southern home away from home, I feel guilty if I see a plant I don't recognize. But not everyone feels this strongly about plant identification. I get it, people are busy.
While kids can name animals from a young age, they fail, or we fail them at plants. Why is this? People tend to be "zoo-centric", granting animals more importance than plants. After all animals roar and sing, pounce, swim and fly, plants by comparison, just sit there.
Children's literature is weighted heavily toward animals. For every "Jack and the Beanstalk" there are a hundred more Curious George and Hungry Caterpillar-like stories. Peter Rabbit's foray into Farmer McGregor's garden, Miss Rumphius scattering her lupine seeds, and the wily critters of "Tops and Bottoms" can hardly compete.
When grandparents are more likely to take their grand-kids on a Disney cruise than simply take them along to pick beans in the garden, another link to the natural world is lost. How can plant blindness be prevented?
--Take kids to parks, zoos (many label their plants) and botanical gardens and learn five new plants every time.
--Encourage kids to research and identify plants in their own backyards, a botanical scavenger hunt.
--Plant a veggie garden and grow your own food, it's awesome the first time a kid pulls a potato from the dirt. It's also awesome the next time too.
It is said we can't care about something if we can't name it. Plants shade us, nourish us, clothe us and provide fascinating beauty. The least we can do is learn their name.
I've grown accustomed to camellias in winter. Knowing I can count on these beautiful blossoms waiting on me when I arrive in Savannah motivates me through the first part of winter.
But cold happens. Unusual cold.
There are a few shrubs in bloom here and there as I navigate the lanes and squares, but very few with flowers untouched by the freezing temperatures that passed through here during the Polar Vortex. Some seemed singed by the frosty temps, others are simply brown, with the buds "frozen" in time, unlikely to bloom.
2013 Camellias in fine form
2014 finds them bitten by frost
And so I wonder how the famous camellia trail at the Coastal Georgia Gardens emerged. I will have to trek out there and take stock of the damage. Not as protected as these urban flowers, by something of a heat island with sheltering buildings and warm pavements, I fear they fared worse.
As I wander familiar paths through the historic district I see palms and ferns dead or dying, devoid of green leaves. Crispy and brittle they rattle in the chilly breeze that even now marks this extra cold winter throughout the country.
Crinums in container on street 2013
Crinums melted by the freezing temps 2014
I was especially sad to to see this pot of crinums on my street, normally a wonder every year to behold, burgeoning from an almost-invisible vessel underneath the massive foliage. I wonder if it will manage a comeback as the season warms? I'll be keeping tabs on it, looking for signs of life, until I leave in a month.
Hoping the crinums make a comeback!
Still, today was warm and I noticed a magnolia starting to bloom in the graveyard across the street, so all is hopefully not lost in these early days of a new year.
Gardening on Mars? Apparently Minnesota shared record low temps the same as average highs for the red planet this week. All those zone 5 trees pushing the limits in my new garden? Well, it will certainly be an interesting spring waiting and watching to see if any survive this Arctic weather.
There's always a lot of talk every year about planting for winter interest. That's the concept of making sure your garden has strong shapes, bold silhouettes and intriguing textures so that a variety of winter preciptation can dust, dollop and delineate those same features.
A newly planted hedge down the street, winter interest if we get it
If you live in milder to somewhat chilly areas, that's all well and good. If you live in England, well, as they say, "Bob's your uncle". No one does winter interest like jolly ole England; dramatic hoarfrosts, powder-sugar (they would call it icing sugar though) snows and frozen dewdrops. But up in the snowy north in North America, mention winter interest and you'll be met with a "hrrrumph!"
Winter interest is mostly a myth in Minnesota.
What winter interest we have is more late fall interest. After that, the snow piles on and our gardens disappear for four or five months. Tall trees and evergreens do what they can. Houses, walls and garden structures can be counted on more than plantings for sporting snow in a stylish way.
Spruce tops "planted" in the water feature with the reclaimed-stone wall coated in snow.
This year we did get one of those pretty whipped cream snows early on and then the extreme cold preserved the effect, netting us more winter interest than usual. But it's still short-lived in the long run.
A bird's nest conifer frosted with early snow in my garden
My interest in winter usually expires around January 1. As I've done for the past few years, I'm heading south to Savannah, GA for awhile. So be prepared for the usual pictures of palm trees, camellias, cemeteries and whatnot. Probably heavy on the whatnot.
Meanwhile I'll share a few attempts at "winter interest" in photos from my newly planted, new house gardens. They aren't much but it's a start. Stay warm out there!
Native liatris and grasses peek above the snow, love the remnants of purple in this seedhead
A small yew resembles a polar porcupine
Helenium presents a graphic silhouette
Droopy drupes, raisin-like fruit on Chinese Fringe tree
Here I am again on Home Depot's Stretch Gardening Blog! Lynn Coulter, the head honcho of Home Depot garden blogging happened to see this charming photo of my old greenhouse decked out with lights in the snow and thought it was a great topic for this week's Garden Club posting.
She asked me to share my experience, with what I called a lovely, although short-lived, luxury...a greenhouse. And as the snowflakes fall here in Minnesota, forget the sugar plums, I am remembering those visions of lemon blossoms and scented geraniums. Here's the link.
Here's another tip to stretch the season: Visit local botanical gardens and zoos with glasshouses or conservatories during the winter, it's guaranteed to chase away the winter blues for a little while.
Orchids in the glasshouse at Atlanta Botanical Gardens
As the days get chilly I'm not quite ready to give up the garden. I'm always looking for ways to stretch the growing season and enjoy the tasty fruits of my labor just a little bit longer. Home Depot was thinking the same thing, so they've invited some of their favorite garden bloggers to share how they do it. Hey, The Garden Buzz is one of them!
I decided to share my deceptively simple veggie soup formula. I love to use my autumn harvest for delicious creamy soups made with all sort of fall veggies and fruits. They warm your tummy, and fill you up but not out. Just the thing we're all looking for between these "heavy-table" holidays.
Here's the link. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
My Spiced Carrot-Orange Soup goes great with Whole Foods cranberry-walnut bread!
Flakes are flying outside. Of all the things growing in my garden, fresh herbs are the hardest to bid goodbye to for the winter. The thought of shelling out for those pricey plastic packets of herbs at the store motivates me to freeze a large portion of my herb harvest to enjoy through the cold months ahead.
Earlier this summer I made numerous batches of pesto from my basil. I form and freeze flat pouches of it and then break off frozen bits as I need, adding the olive oil at that point depending upon the use.
Now it's the cold hardiest herbs that I've left to the bitter end so tonight I'm putting up chives and parsley.
Chives are so easy to freeze and so rewarding to have at hand during comfort food season. Who wouldn't want some for baked potatoes, soups or pasta toppings?
Chives should always be cut at the base of the plant so that you aren't left with ragged brown ends that mar the plant's appearance but moreso that you use the entire portion. Gather your chive foliage in "ponytails" and use scissors to simply snip in small pieces.
Freeze them in small jars or plastic containers to use throughout the winter.
Lots of folks recommend freezing herbs in ice cube trays. You chop the herbs, mix them with water and freeze into cubes. I find the process a little tedious and prefer to freeze whole leaves in plastic bags.
For flat-leaf Italian parsley I pluck the leaves from the stems putting the leaves straight into the salad spinner to wash away any dirt, insect eggs and tiny caterpillars that might be clinging to the foliage. I further dry with the foliage with a paper towel.
Then I press the leaves into a plastic freezer bag, and using a trick I learned awhile back, I roll the compressed parsley into a log and secure with rubber bands. They kind of resemble Christmas crackers but hopefully you'll freeze enough to make it was past the holidays.
Slice off pieces as needed returning the remaining parsley to the freezer.
Yesterday I captured the sun glowing through my Swiss chard, illuminating the leaves like fire, or perhaps stained glass. Last night's frost has put an end to that, now they droop and flag, all the wind knocked out of their veiny sails. Today I must cut them down and try, really try, to find a recipe that makes me want to eat rather than simply adore them. Like wedding cake and lattice-top pie it falls into the almost too-pretty-to-eat category for me. Yet a little birdie might feel differently.
Earlier this year before the rest of the landscape was finished at our new home I was impatient and planted a fall garden in the kitchen beds, late even for Minnesota standards. Surprisingly those sad leftover veggies from the garden center rose to the occasion, especially the chard. But back when it was just a couple sprigs, the stonemason noticed a goldfinch sitting atop the leaves. He even managed a photo that identified the very culprit making holes in the leaves.
I thought back to a similar photo I had taken of a goldfinch sitting on chard plants at the University of Minnesota Demo Garden on the St. Paul campus. Hmmm, the goldfinches must sit on the sturdy leaves and eat insects I thought. What a coincidence. But of course, my curiosity was piqued.
I wondered how many innocent worms had been framed by these sweet little yellow birds?
Check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology, my favorite bird website and it will tell you that American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) are almost exclusively seed eaters, connoisseurs of thistle seed. In fact it states they are strict vegetarians, any insect eaten is by accident. Nothing is said about consuming leafy greens.
Do a search on Flickr for goldfinch and chard and you'll see flocks of finches perched upon raggedy chard, including my photo. Some theorize the birds are sipping water from the deeply grooved foliage.
Go on the garden discussion boards and it's another story. Loads of anecdotal evidence that goldfinches are enjoying Swiss chard in lots of gardens around the country. You might say that pokes holes in this venerable institutuion's knowledge of goldfinch behavior.
Have you seen goldfinches on your chard? And while we're at it, how do you like to eat it? I'm considering the creamy greens recipe from this month's Martha.