Category Archives: Gardening

Grow in Northwest Missouri

The deciduous shrub, oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, which is native to the southeastern United States, has long been one of my favorites. But upon moving to my husband’s family farm in Missouri thirteen years ago, I discovered to my dismay that oakleaf hydrangeas did not thrive on the windy hillock we call home. And so each year I missed seeing their brilliant lantern-like panicles growing in the shady corners of my yard. Still I attempted to grow them on several occasions. They all died brutal deaths in the icy winds which buffet our abode each winter. Nevertheless, I was determined…

During our landscaping endeavors we created a microclimate on the southeast side of our yard by designing a garden wall made of privacy fence. It was there that I planted yet another oakleaf hydrangea. I hoped the oakleaf would be protected from old man winter’s ravaging breath beneath the boughs of a tall bald cypress nearby

 Surprisingly enough our enthusiastic hydrangea survived the winter. I cannot express my consummate relief at seeing those verdant green leaves sprout the following spring. But time would prove there were no blooms upon my hydrangea. The leaves were large and vivacious with life, but it would not bloom. Alas I discovered one day whilst gazing upon my long dreamt of hydrangea that the flower buds had been damaged by Missouri’s mulishly cold winter. There was hope, for my oakleaf had been large when I planted it. And I knew in climates akin to northwest Missouri’s where the winter temperatures regularly fall below -10 F if your oakleaf successfully reaches a large size then it is more likely to thrive. Even if one does not bloom annually there is pleasure to be derived by simply admiring its multifarious foliage each season.

Here are a few suggestions for growing the oakleaf hydrangea in northwest Missouri or similar zones. Locate a semi-shady site along the southeast or east side of your home. Considering the fact that oakleafs prefer well-drained soul amend your soil if desired. I did not amend mine. Instead I planted in a slightly raised bed for enhanced drainage. Once your oakleaf is happily planted mulch it to help retain moisture at its base. You may fertilize your hydrangea if you like. Mine has not yet required fertilizer.

In the fall as you enjoy the vibrant hues of your oakleaf hydrangea add a thick layer of mulch for winter protection. Check your oakleaf periodically throughout the cold season and apply additional mulch if you feel it is necessary. In the spring you should notice the first sign of grayish-green leaves as the hydrangea wakes from its winter rest. Do not fret if there are no leaves in March, even April. Oakleaf hydrangeas like to wait until the weather is truly warm before they show you their beauty.

If your oakleaf hydrangea survives the coming winters to reach a mature size, it is much more likely to continue to survive and bloom as well. My oakleaf hydrangea, I am thankful to say, has grown into a happy and well-adjusted shrub upon the windy hillock we call home.

Nutrition & Growing Tips Watermelon

Watermelon is a member of the cucumber (Cucurbits) family. It is a native plant of the Kalahari Desert in Africa and can grow under extreme UV radiation, high heat and drought; it has evolved as a melon full of free radical fighting power. Watermelon is used in cosmetics and toiletries for skin protection; and it is a very healthy fruit to include in your diet.

On a recent stop to a farm stand, owner Chris Chiaccio, of Tony’s Farm & Garden Center in Windsor, NJ commente

 “I feel better when I eat watermelon.”

She may feel better from eating watermelon for 3 reasons:Watermelon is 90% water; it is hydrating and makes us feel refreshed,Watermelon has energy-yielding natural sugars ,Watermelon contains vitamins, minerals and other compounds

Watermelon is low calorie. A one cup serving is only 46 calories.Like most fruit, watermelon is fat-free and has no cholesterol. Watermelon has a lot more than just water and sugars
Watermelon contains health-promoting nutrients, such as vitamin A, potassium, citrulline; and beneficial antioxidants, such as lycopene, beta carotene and vitamin C.
Antioxidants have disease fighting properties that may help prevent cancer and reduce heart risks.

Citrulline is a potential antioxidant that helps maintain blood flow and heart health.
Watermelon per 100 grams (about 8 melon balls)

Varieties of Watermelon

There are many varieties of watermelon grown in the U.S. and they vary by state. California farmers primarily grow ‘Fiesta’, ‘Laurel’, ‘Nova’, ‘Sangria’, and Wonderland. In Florida you might find ‘Dillon’, Ecstasy, ‘Freedom’, ‘Genesis’ and ‘Mohican’. In the Texas high plains, farmers primarily grow ‘Allsweet’ and ‘Jubilee’.[5] Dave’s Gardeners have grown varieties that include: ‘Raspa’, ‘Triton’, ‘Matador’, ‘Emperor’, ‘Pinata’ and ‘Schochler’. Visit PlantFiles here on Dave’s Garden to discover even more watermelon varieties.

Growing Watermelons
In General
Watermelons require a long growing season–about 3 months from planting to harvest–and need warm soil temperatures and full sun. The vines are rambling, and in most varieties the fruits are fairly large. The vines can easily spread 6 to 8 feet in their first month. After a few months blossoms appear, then baby melons. When the melons are ripe, they have a light, yellowish area touching the ground and their tendrils are longer and less green. They are then ready to be hand-picked.

Seedless Watermelons
Growing seedless watermelons require an extra step, but it is by no means difficult. Start with fresh seed; the seed is only good for a year. [6] To grow seedless watermelons, a second type of melon with seeds has to be planted in the same area. The second melon is considered the pollinizer and should be something that is noticeably different from your seedless variety, such as a smaller size or a solid color. For example, farmer Ray Hlubik (pronounced Lubik) of Hlubik Farms in Chesterfield, NJ uses 2 different pollinizers in a 1/2-acre patch containing several seedless varieties.His pollinizers, which make up about 25% of his crop, include a solid green ‘Sugar Baby’ type and also a very small watermelon that won’t compete for growing space with his seedless melons.

Seedless watermelons are a result of a crossing traditional, diploid, seeded melons with tetraploidmelons. The result is a hybrid, seedless, triploid species. This simply means that the numbers of chromosomes are different, and genetically the seedless melon will be sterile. The seedless will still get flowers, but will need help in pollination from a nearby diploid pollinizer. Honeybees are the key for a successful watermelon crop, since the pollen in watermelon blossoms is heavy and sticky and requires more than just the wind to transfer it from flower to flower.

Growing watermelon in a small garden
When there is a will, there is a way! Thanks to the many varieties of melons available, selecting a smaller-sized melon may work for your small garden area. Some people have even grown watermelon off their high rise balconies successfully! In small garden situations the melon vines can be trellised and the fruit can be harnessed with expandable netting or pantyhose. This technique can also be done with other climbers that bear heavy fruit or vegetables.

Garden Beasts

Garden Beasts, Imaginary and Real
Platycodon (plat-ee-KOE-dun) may sound like the name of a dinosaur, but it’s actually a charming plant more often called Japanese bellflower. Another common name, balloon flower, perfectly describes the spherical shape of the blossoms right before they open, and is much more memorable than its scientific name, unless you are familiar with its Greek roots: “platys” (broad) and “kodon” (bell).

Centaurea (variously sen-TOR-ee-ah and sen-taw-REE-uh) has been a garden resident for centuries, and was used to treat illnesses in medieval times. Perhaps its name sounds so much like a garden beast because of its origin in Greek mythology. Centaurs were a race of war-beasts who were half-man, half-horse. According to legend, one particularly peaceful centaur named Chiron used the flowers of this plant to heal wounds. Centaurea is better known as the bachelor’s button, for its use as a lapel flower, or cornflower, for its habit of growing in corn fields.

The delightfully-named liriope (lir-RYE-oh-pee) also derives from Greek mythology. Liriope was a naiad, or water nymph, and mother to Narcissus, the beautiful young man who fell in love with his own reflection. Although neither a grass nor a lily,

The echinops (EK-in-ops) is one garden “beast” named after an actual creature that can be found in gardens in some parts of the world. It derives from the Greek words “echinos” (hedgehog) and “opis” (appearance). The dense, spiny, globe-like flowers of this plant, commonly called globe thistle, certainly do resemble little, colorful hedgehogs.

Located nearby in the botanical dictionary, and similarly spiky, is the eryngium (air-ING-ee-um), from the Greek meaning “sea holly,” which is the plant’s common name. One particular variety, E. giganteum, is nicknamed “Miss Willmott’s Ghost” after the famous English gardener Ellen Willmott. Apparently she was in the habit of scattering seeds of these short-lived perennials, whose silvery flowers give them a spectral appearance.

The name antirrhinum (an-tihr-RYE-num) sounds like it’s straight out of Harry Potter’s Herbology class, perhaps describing a powerful counter-spell for a magic-induced illness. But it’s really just the scientific name for an old garden favorite, deriving from the Greek “anti” (like) and “rhin” (nose), for the flower’s similarity to a snout. The plant’s common name, snapdragon, describes an age-old children’s pastime. By pressing the sides of the flower, you can open and close the make-believe jaws of an obliging “dragon.”

Plant or Dreaded Disease?
If the plant name achillea (ack-ih-LEE-uh) reminds you of a foot disorder, you’re not far off the mark, because it comes from the same root as the Achilles tendon, which runs between calf and heel. Both names derive from Achilles, the hero of Homer’s “Iliad,” who supposedly used the achillea plant to heal his wounded soldiers. (Achilles himself was mortally wounded by an arrow to the heel — hence, a person’s fatal flaw is his “Achilles heel.”) Because achillea was believed to be particularly useful in treating wounds caused by iron, Civil War battlefield surgeons applied this plant to bullet wounds.

Echinacea (Eh-kih-NAY-shah or ek-in-AY-see-uh) — a description of the aches and pains accompanying a cold and the flu? Far from it! Echinacea or coneflower is in fact a time-honored herbal medicine that may help ward off such symptoms. From the Latin “echinatus” or prickly, the plant name echinacea, like echinops, ultimately derives from the Latin word for hedgehog. In this case, the little hedgehog is the not the flower itself, which is daisy-like, but the spiny “cone” or seed head that gives the plant its common name, coneflower.

Phlox (floks) isn’t an upset stomach, it’s a “phunny” name for one of the loveliest and longest-blooming perennials of spring and summer. From the Greek “phlox,” meaning “flame,” this name was originally applied to a completely different plant, now unknown (undoubtedly a reference to brightly colored blossoms or leaves). Somehow the moniker phlox became tied to an abundant, sweet-smelling North American native plant. Today phlox can be had in a huge variety of colors and bi-colors, both pastels and brights.

 

Fleeceflower

SUN-LOVER

When a garden needs a big, bold shrub, call on giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) with its large white sprays of flowers and dark green, deeply veined foliage. This massive herbaceous shrub is also known as Polygonum polymorphum, but whatever you call it, this is one specimen that will make a statement in the landscape. The showy flowers and seed heads attract both birds and butterflies, but will not appeal to deer. The dark green coarse foliage is an excellent backdrop for more delicate medium size plants, and the nodding flowers give movement to a garden space.

Giant fleeceflower grows well in clay soil, is hardy in zones 1 through 11, and thrives in full sun; however, mature plants will tolerate a little shade and some drought. The flowers look like astilbe, only on a much larger scale, nodding in the breeze atop 6 foot stems; they have no fragrance. The shrub will spread from 6 to 10 feet in a clumping habit, and reach 4 to 7 feet in height. Be aware that this is a fast-growing species, so make provisions to keep it corralled where you want it to stay by sinking metal or plastic boundaries in the soil as far out as you are willing to let the plant spread. Bloom time is June and the flowers continue through summer. At the end of the season, the flowers turn reddish-brown just like astilbe. This provides a nice textural addition to the fall garden landscape.

Persicaria grows from rhizomes or stolons and, therefore, can be invasive if not controlled; it dies back in the winter. The plant prefers moist soil, but will still grow in dry conditions, though not as profusely. Propagation is by division in spring or fall, or by seed started in a cold frame in early spring. Japanese beetles, slugs, snails, andaphids are fond of this shrub and will need control.

SHADY CHARACTER

Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) is another little used perennial for shady situations. This lovely plant is native to Japan and Korea in the mountains; it does well in zones 5 to 8, with hardiness to -20F. It must have shade to grow, and is a wonderful addition to woodland gardens and shady beds and borders.

Kirengeshoma is a late blooming perennial, coming into flower in late August and early September, a nice addition to a garden that may already be fading. Though slow-growing, the plant can grow quite tall – 3 to 6 feet, and the clumps spread up to 3 feet. Glossy maple-leaf shaped leaves reach 4 to 8 inches long and provide a beautiful background for the drooping yellow waxy blossoms that are shaped like badminton shuttlecocks.

Plant in rich, moist soil that is acidic, and shelter the plants from wind. Water regularly and do not allow the soil to dry out. When new growth begins in spring, propagate by division. Be careful not to damage any of the new shoots. Slugs and snails will feast on the tender new growth of yellow wax bells, but deer will not.

Confederate Rose

The Confederate rose was in bloom during a particularly bloody battle of the Civil War. A slain soldier fell beside a Confederate rose, and his blood spilled into the ground at the base of shrub. The flowers, which had started out white in the morning, absorbed the slain soldier’s blood throughout the day, so that by evening they had turned a deep, rosy red.

That sort of story makes for interesting reading, but the flowers do, indeed, live up the specific epithet, “mutabilis,” which means “variable or changeable.” All are large and showy and look somewhat like a large, delicate rose. Some are single, and many are double. On some specimens, the flowers that open early in the morning are snowy white, but by evening they have turned to deep rose. On the second day, they wither and fall from the shrub. On other shrubs, the opening blossom may be pink, turning to white or even a darker pink as it ages. Either way, many buds are waiting for their day in the sun. At any time, as many as three different colors may show at one time as the flowers fade or darken to their various hues. On some single-flowered specimens, flowers are red and remain so for the duration of their bloom. Some are pink and gradually turn a darker shade of pink as they age.

The Confederate rose is a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree capable of growing up to 15 feet tall and about 10 feet wide. Large, deeply lobed 5- to 7-inch leaves are attractive throughout the summer, during which time they add a distinctive, coarse texture that contrasts well with other, more finely textured compatriots. Following the bloom, a seed capsule reminiscent of a cotton boll, dries and yields its fuzzy seeds. This trait calls to mind why another of its common names is cotton rose. Like many other plants with seasonal bloom, hardly anybody notices the Confederate rose in spring and summer. When fall rolls around and the shrubs begin flowering, nobody can miss their striking beauty.

Hardiness

Confederate rose exhibits some degree of hardiness in USDA Zones 7-9. In my Zone 8B garden it gets killed to the ground most winters, but it comes back from the roots every spring. All summer it spends growing and producing strong woody stems and big, tropical-looking leaves. Rounded buds begin appearing about August, and in September or October and until frost, the Confederate rose struts its stuff.

In frost-free areas, Confederate rose blooms throughout the winter. In places that have light frosts, the leaves are shed, but they sprout again from sturdy, undamaged stems in spring. In areas with prolonged cold periods and frequent heavy frosts, the stems are killed to the ground, but the plant re-grows from hardy roots the following spring. Our poor cousins to the north where the ground freezes must grow their confederate roses in containers and move them to protected places in winter or simply treat them as annuals.

 

 

In the Landscape

Most country folks and others who have space to do so, grow the Confederate rose as a free-standing specimen. In such a place, it grows to its maximum potential into a natural, oval shape, and its beautiful, various-hued flowers are shown to their best advantage. If space allows, plant Confederate rose in the front yard so that it can be seen by all passersby. If space is simply not available, the Confederate rose is good addition to a mixed shrub border.

At any rate, the Confederate rose will be the talk of the neighborhood when it is in full bloom. It is particularly welcome in the fall when many of the summer-flowering plants have bloomed out and the garden needs an extra boost.

Culture

Like many other plants, Confederate rose does best in rich, well-drained but moist soil and full sun. However, it is highly adaptable and will perform reasonably well in almost any soil as long as it drains well. It is well worth growing even if you cannot provide the conditions for maximum performance. Some blooms will be produced in partial shade, and the plant is tolerant of a wide range of soils. Even though it appreciates regular watering, it can get by with much less and is even drought tolerant in good soil.

Confederate rose can be plagued by insect pests such as white flies, scale insects, weevils, and caterpillars. If the infestation is severe, spraying with an insecticide approved for hibiscus and recommended for the particular pest may be necessary. Systemic insecticide drenches or granules that are applied to the ground and absorbed by the plant’s roots are sometimes useful in the battle against persistent pests.

Tomato varieties in your garden

1.Chocolate Cherry

This cherry tomato variety is the color of port wine and bears a hint of chocolate. For such small fruit, these tomatoes have an awfully big taste. They’re best served fresh and are ideal for making salads and canning.

Yellow Pear

 Yellow pear plants produce sunny little teardrop-shaped tomatoes, so their name seems more than appropriate. These fun fruits have a mild taste and are great for popping into your mouth right when you harvest them. Alternatively, they can be eaten as tomato preserves.

2.Sun Gold

Sun Gold is another variety that produces smaller fruits, all of which are lovely orange cherry-type tomatoes. They have a rather sweet taste and can thrive well past the end of the growing season. Sun Golds are perfect for eating right off the vine or for adding some color to your salads.

3.Candy’s Old Yellow

Another yellow variety! These tomatoes are large, flat, and sweet-tasting. Their crazy irregular shape makes them a lot of fun to grow. Try throwing some of these into a chutney or a sweeter salsa.

4.Green Zebra

Green Zebras are gloriously striped green fruits that usually bear a yellow or bluish-red tint. With an average weight of just six ounces, these fruits are relatively small. Some may worry that they won’t be able to tell when their Green Zebras have ripened, but the trick is to wait until the stripes turn a deeper shade of yellow. These tomatoes have a tart taste and can be enjoyed fresh by anyone who isn’t a fan of sweeter varieties. They also work well in canning recipes because of their slight acidity.

5.Pineapple Heirloom

This giant beefsteak tomato is bicolored yellow and red. It has a mild but tropically sweet flavor to it. These tomatoes can grow to massive sizes on the vine and work wonderfully for slicing thanks to their meaty flesh. Plus, you can use these giants in your canning recipes.

6.Striped German

These large, gorgeous-looking tomatoes are known for their green and red stripes. Inside, they are marbled. Striped Germans are sweet and can easily be sliced up to eat fresh. Unfortunately, this variety tastes so good that it often doesn’t last long enough to make it into your meals.

7.Mr. Stripey

Like the Striped German, Mr. Stripey is a two-toned tomato. The only difference is that this red and yellow-striped fruit that has a thick beefsteak feel to it. Mr. Stripeys have a high sugar content, which gives them a very sweet flavor. Still, they taste great on salads and sandwiches and in sweet salsas.

8.Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple is another aptly-named variety, as they turn a beautiful shade of mahogany purple when ripe. Cherokee Purples are large and very beefy. If you’re looking for the perfect slicing tomato, this one’s for you. They can be eaten fresh, added to your salsa recipes, and canned.

9Brandywine Pink

Brandywine Pink plants produce large, delightful pinkish-red tomatoes. You can expect these to slice well and taste divine. They have a rather sweet flavor and will make the perfect addition to your burgers and picnic sandwiches.

10.Costoluto Genovese

This red-fluted tomato is an Italian heirloom that’s been around for quite a while. Their deep ribbing gives them a unique shape. Costoluto Genovese have an intense flavor and can be eaten fresh or thrown into your favorite recipes!

11.You should be able to find some of these varieties at your local nursery. For others, you may have to order seeds or seedlings from a mail-order garden company. It’s always fun to try out new varieties and discover some awesome new flavors. You might even find that your kids love yellow pears for their sunny color or that you can’t get enough of Cherokee Purple. This year, make it a point to grow one or two new tomato varieties in your garden. A lot of heirlooms are finally making a comeback, and it’s time to give them a try.

Stunning Summer Blooms

This Asian native has become synonymous with summer all across the American South. The large panicles of crepy-textured flowers that give us its common name brighten the landscape and put on an impressive show that few other plants can match. Climate is a big factor on how a crepe myrtle looks. Here in the Upper South where it is possible for the plant to freeze to the ground in harsh winters, we may use it as a bushy shrub that we keep pruned. We also maintain small, multi-trunked trees that top out at about 15 to 25 feet. These are quite attractive if the lower limbs are pruned for the first 5 to 7 feet to show off the exquisite, peeling bark. The bark continues to peel as the tree grows, revealing a shiny, polished look to the branches. They also tend to ‘sucker’ from the roots, so clip those sprouts to maintain a tree form. Crepe myrtles are hardy in USDA Zones 6-10 and even a little further north with protection. That’s because plant breeders have worked hard to give us more cold-hardy varieties. Fifteen years ago, it was rare to see any here in west Kentucky, now they are everywhere. I even have 4 in my garden. When they are in bloom, they have a lovely light fragrance and bees, butterflies and hummingbirds flock to them.

In the Lower South, it is common to see large, single-trunked trees that grow well over 40 feet tall. I saw my first ones in that size range on the campus of Auburn University in Alabama and was totally impressed. Imagine full-sized shade trees covered in large, hot pink blooms! And it isn’t only hot pink. There is a full color spectrum ranging from pure white, through many shades of pink, to purple and finally to the deepest red. I even have a red and white bi-color in my garden. However, there are no oranges or yellows, except for the stamens in the centers of the blooms. There are even some cultivars with dark or reddish toned foliage. You can dead-head for a prolonged bloom season or let the attractive seed heads develop. The seeds are viable once they have dried and you can even grow your own by saving them indoors and planting them in the spring. Just remember, like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, “you never know what you may get.” Chances are, the seedling won’t favor the parent, but if that doesn’t bother you, try some. I’ve even had volunteers pop up in my garden.

Crepe myrtles bloom on new wood, so prune to shape in late winter or very early spring, however don’t commit ‘crepe murder’. This term was coined to describe the practice of chopping back the plant severely so that each winter there are only a few trunks forlornly sticking out of the ground. Since crape myrtles bloom on new wood, this practice encourages new growth with heavy bloom set. Sometimes the blooms are so huge that they weigh the slender new growth branches down to the point of breaking. These trees have a pleasing, natural shape on their own and I only prune to remove rubbing branches and to keep an open and airy crown. (with one notable exception) Some gardeners comment that the drastic pruning is the only way to keep the plant small enough for its space, however there are so many different sizes and forms, why not choose one to fit the space as opposed to chopping your plant? I do have one crepe myrtle that I do battle annually. It was supposed to be a dwarf variety that wouldn’t grow over 8 foot tall, but I bought it at a ‘big box store’ for just a few dollars. This creature wants to be 20 feet tall and works hard each year to overtop my roofline. I have to prune it hard each spring to keep it from fouling my gutters because it is too close to the house. I still try to prune so it looks natural, but every year I wish it were somewhere else. I do get many compliments on it from visitors, so apparently, it is worth the trouble. Just remember, if you need a specific size cultivar, purchase it from a reputable nursery or garden center.

Crepe myrtles aren’t picky about soil and tolerate average fertility and acidity well. Since they are a summer-loving plant, heat and humidity doesn’t faze them either. Plant in full sun or in an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun daily. My ‘monster’ gets about 8 hours on the east side of my home and it obviously thrives, but there are a few pests or problems to watch for. Aphids tend to enjoy them, and powdery mildew plagues some cultivars, however newer varieties have been bred to withstand the fungus. There is also a new problem that has surfaced since 2004: Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale. These scale insects cover the branches and leaves and they look like black mold. Moisture drips from infected trees and that is actually the poop from the scale…uggh! About the only cure for this is a systemic insecticide, but luckily this scale has only surfaced in a few places in the far south.

Flower to Rock

There are many types of rock. Limestone, Sandstone, Soapstone, Travertine, Marble, Slate, and Granite. That is the short list. My favorite rock is formed on the Cumberland Plateau in the state of Tennessee. It is called Crab Orchard stone, although, it can be found all over the plateau, not just in Crab Orchard. Read more about the history of Crab Orchard stone here.

We have used stone for centuries. The pyramids were built using large stones. Castles, walls, fences, fountains, pathways, bridges and many other structures have been made from stone. Stone statues in cemeteries stand watch like sentries over those who have gone before.

Sculptors find beauty in stone that no one else can see. I have felt a great deal of envy when I see their creations. The ability to chip away at a huge stone and find the masterpiece hidden inside is a talent given only a few in history. Just a few that come to mind are; Hiram Powers, Giovanni Bernini, and Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Many castles, built with stone centuries ago, are still standing.

Back to the hard, cold, uninteresting rock. As children, we stepped on them and had invisible bruises, we skipped them across the pond and stacked them up to use in our sling-shots. As adults, many cursed them in the fields that had to be planted for food and profit.

Children and adults alike, while sitting on a rock, have dropped their tired feet into the cool waters of streams all over the world.
I had not given much thought to rocks until I moved back to Florida. In the area I moved to, there were no rocks. No rocks? None that I could find, none on the roadsides, none in the pastures, none in any trench or hole I dug in my yard. None. I found myself wondering what I would use to border the walkways and flowerbeds. How would I build a wall to section off garden rooms? I was perplexed. I could not buy rocks that are shipped in on trucks from out of state. The prices are exorbitant. I also could not make several trips north to collect enough rocks for all the projects I had lined up.

Each time I went on a road trip to visit family and friends, I brought home a rock or two. I picked them up along the roadsides, at gas stations when I filled up the tank and on friends’ property while visiting. The call went out and every time I have a visitor from out of state, they bring a rock. Not a bottle of wine to have with dinner or pie for desert, but a rock. It can be large or small. One, or a few. Whatever they can fit in their vehicle, comes to my place. I am always grateful and promptly place them at the pond, along a pathway or around a flowerbed.

I now have rocks in my formally rock-less yard from TN, AL, GA, TX, OK, NM, AR, KY, NC and MO. Sometimes I sit in the shade of an oak tree beside the pond and admire my rocks. They have been as hard for me to acquire as they were for the old time farmers to clear from their fields. We each had our battle, they to be rid of them and me to collect them.

I think too, if my Florida flowers could speak, would they ask, “Rock, where did you come from?” and would the rocks speak back and tell their tales of travel across the country to this little spot in the sand-hills of Florida.I believe rock borders add substance to the area they are placed in. They bring a certain quiet strength. If they are meant to contain plants, the plants lend themselves to soften the hard edges of the stone. Together, they are perfect. Complete opposites, I would like to think in a world on the edge of the rim of reality, the two would be ‘friends’.

Summer Wildflowers

If you’re not much of a lawn person, you’re not alone. Most gardeners realize that lawns have their place around every home, but if you minimize the amount of space your grass takes up and diversify the area with wildflowers and shrubs, you can easily turn your yard into a habitat. It’s always nice to have some grass for your kids, grandkids, and pets to run and play on, but if you’re looking to attract pollinators like butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds to your yard, you’re going to have to make a change. Lawns just don’t provide the enticing diversity that flower beds and shrubs do. This year, do your local wildlife the favor of swapping your grass out for some colorful varieties and a few easy-to-reach sources of food and shelter.

From Lawn to Flower Beds

Converting a lawn into a wildflower sanctuary will require you to do some work in the fall, but remember that you’ll be rewarded for your efforts as soon as the following summer. First and foremost, the lawn has to go. Get yourself a good sod cutter to slice away rows of grass. Remember to set the depth gauge to at least two inches, or you won’t be cutting deep enough. Depending on the quality of your grass, you’ll want to either compost it, replant it a different location, or even put it up on Craigslist for someone else to haul away. Once the grass is gone, bring in as much new soil as you need. Tamping down the soil will provide a firm base for the seeds you plant in it later on

 Check your local nursery or favorite gardening catalog for wildflower seed mixes. Different mixes serve different purposes: some attract pollinators, some provide floral diversity, and some are tailored to thrive in certain climates. If you can, buy seeds that are native to your area.

Just like reseeding a lawn, you can choose to spread your wildflower seeds by hand or with a spreader. Of course, larger seeds like lupine and sunflower will have to be broadcast by hand. Don’t worry about walking over the seeds afterward, because you’re going to want to tamp them a little bit into the soil anyway. Cover the newly-planted seeds with a thin layer of soil to keep any hungry birds at bay. While your wildflowers grow, you’ll want to keep an eye out for weeds — new soil is the perfect target for invasive plants.

Vigilance is Key

Since you’re planting your wildflowers in the fall, you might have to water them occasionally, but these seeds won’t need much of any major resource once they start to overwinter. Water as needed to keep everything growing, and never let the area get so dry that the seedlings become stressed. Then it’s a matter of weeding and watching your sprouts grow and, eventually, bloom in the late spring or early summer.

Typically, wildflower mixes contain a combination of annuals and perennials. Save yourself some work by letting the flowers go to seed. That way, they’ll reseed the surrounding area for you. Alternatively, you could choose to collect some native wildflowers and work them in between your existing varieties.

Getting Ideas

Chances are, there’s a community garden or wildflower sanctuary in your area that can give you some great ideas on what to grow in your own space. Ask your local extension office for some advice on native species, or arrange a seed swap with them to help minimize the cost of purchasing seed. While you’re at it, be sure to look out for local plant sales on the off-chance a gardener there wants to swap some of their excess plants for some of yours.

 

Friendly Garden Space

Examine Your Existing Space

Whether you’re looking to set up a free-range situation for your cats or simply planning on building them an outdoor enclosure, you’ll need to give your backyard a quick safety inspection beforehand. Does your yard have a fence or another kind of barrier around it to keep your pets from wandering off? If so, will your cat be able to jump over or wiggle through that barrier? Remember that even the highest fences can be climbed by a sneaky cat that has access to nearby trees.

 When determining if your yard will make a suitable second home for your cat or kitten, you’ll also need to take some more overt hazards into account. Do you keep toxic chemicals out in the open or have a water fountain or pond that poses a potential drowning threat? While many cat owners already consider their felines to be a part of the family, it’s still important to create safe spaces for them like you would for a small child.

Select Cat-Friendly Plant Varieties

Everyone knows that kittens love cat grass and catnip, but cats can also be tempted to nibble on toxic plant varieties sometimes. When planning your outdoor “catio” or garden space, you’ll want to double-check that every plant in the area is safe for pets to eat. If some of these plants just can’t be removed, you may have to stick to keeping your cats in an outdoor enclosure. Trust us, it’s better than a trip to the vet’s office.

When it comes to selecting the plants that cats enjoy, on the other hand, you shouldn’t feel limited to the varieties sold in pet stores. A lot of your favorite vegetables, herbs, and florals are actually safe to plant around felines and can be as tasty as a patch of catnip to them! Sunflowers can provide them with both overhead shade and a maze to navigate through, while ornamental grassesmake for good hiding spots and the occasional afternoon snack. Herbs such as dill, mint, sage, and basil are also pet-friendly and provide cats with a buffet of sorts — some cats are so attracted to these herbs that they roll around in them to pick up their scent. Showy blooms like cosmos, bachelors buttons, and snapdragons are also good choices for a pet-friendly garden, as they’re non-toxic and great visual stimuli.

Reconsider How You’ll Fight Pests and Weeds

Creating a safe space for cats to roam around in means having to rethink the chemicals you’re using in your garden. Weedkillers and pesticides can easily end up on delicate paws and be tracked into your home on furry coats or whiskers. Not to mention the fact that these chemicals, if ingested directly or later on during grooming, can cause some serious health problems for your kittens.

If you want your pets to be able to freely come in and out of the house, you’ll need to consider alternative ways to manage weeds and pests. If your garden suffers from bug problems, try using a natural pesticide like diatomaceous earth. Rodent problem? You’re already covered. Anyone who’s ever seen Tom and Jerry will know that cats love catching mice!

Add Natural Toys

Most pet owners know what things their cats enjoy playing with, and an outdoor space is sure to bring a ton of new toys into their lives. Luckily, a lot of these toys can be made from the items that are already in your garden. Maybe your cat will fashion a log into a scratching post or find a nice ledge to sunbathe off of. Planting large shrubs, hedges, or grasses in your yard will give your feline friend some cover to stalk behind. If you’re looking to save the bark on your beautiful backyard trees, you can set up a small ladder, ledge, or outdoor pet tree for them to climb instead!

Incorporate Natural Shade and Hiding Spots

Even if they’re only going to be outdoors for a short amount of time, you’ll need to provide your cat with some easy access to shade. On particularly warm days, cats that stay out in the sun too long run the risk of overheating. Patio umbrellas and canopies are a couple of quick fixes to this problem, and they may already be a part of your backyard decor. Plus, the large bushes, sunflowers, and ornamental grasses you’ve planted for your cats should provide them with a at least a few more places to cool off under.

When considering shade, you’ll also want to think about keeping your cat hydrated. Take a bowl with you every time you go out into the garden, and refill it often to ensure your kitty has a plentiful supply of fresh water.

Introduce A Designated Litter Zone

If there’s one thing gardeners don’t like about cats, it’s the fact that they sometimes leave their unwanted litter box business in the flower beds. Luckily, litter box-trained cats can easily be taught to use an outdoor litter box or pan. Devoting a small part of your yard or garden to your cat’s bathroom activities will help establish boundaries and let your cat know that it’s important to follow bathroom rules indoors and out. If you find that your cat is ignoring their outdoor bathroom area, spread some less-desirable planting bed mediums like mulch or pest netting around the garden. Your cats won’t like the feel of the terrain and will have no choice but to use the area you set up for them!