This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title

Monthly Archives: September 2016


Baby’s-breath are well known to most gardeners for their ‘filler’ effect in the border or use as a cut-flower, but this diverse genus also contains some very desirable alpine species. This article will discuss the more traditional baby’s-breath but also introduce you to some of the less well-known yet exquisite miniature species.

The vast majority of gardeners are familiar with baby’s-breath or Gypsophila. It is certainly one of the most popular cut-flowers as ‘fillers’ in arrangements, but this genus of about 100 species, has great diversity in size, form and uses in the garden. The name Gypsophila comes from the Greek gypsos (gypsum) and philos (loving), referring to the chalk- or lime-loving nature of most species. In the wild, they are only found in Eurasia, southeast Europe in particular.

In the garden, we grow both large and small alpine species. Among the larger species are G. paniculata, the perennial baby’s-breath (zone 4), G. pacifica (zone 4) and G. elegans, the annual baby’s-breath. All are popular as fillers in the garden, especially if planted in areas where spring bulbs are left to go dormant. They are also perfect cut-flowers, grown in great profusion for the cut-flower industry. They may even be used as a dried-flower. In the garden, G. elegans can reach 50 cm while the other two can reach twice that height. While providing a loose and airy floral display, they can be devastated by heavy rains. A relatively new introduction is the annual G. muralis. The wild species may reach 90 cm but most named selections are only 20 to 30 cm. The smaller forms are dense and covered in minute flowers all summer. They are excellent fillers for window boxes and hanging baskets.

There are many named forms of G. paniculata and G. elegans, which may have single or double flowers in white or pink shades. Among G. paniculata are the single-flowered ‘Festival Star’, ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Compacta’; the double-flowered ‘Bristol Fairy’, ‘Double Snowflake’, ‘Early Snowball’, ‘Perfecta’, ‘Virgo’, Festival White’ and ‘Happy Festival’; the single pink-flowered ‘Red Sea’ and the double pink-flowered ‘Flamingo’, ‘Pink Fairy’ and ‘Festival Pink’. Among the annual G. elegans cultivars are the white-flowered ‘Covent Garden’, ‘Grandiflora Alba’, ‘Giant White’, ‘White Elephant’, ‘Lady Lace’, ‘White Monarch’ and ‘Snow Fountain’ along with the pink-flowered ‘Red Cloud’, ‘Rosea’ and ‘Carminea’.

Most of the other cultivated Gypsophila species are alpine in nature. The most popular of these is the creeping baby’s-breath, G. repens (zone 4). This species has long trailing stems and small but profuse sprays of white or pink flowers in late spring-early summer. The foliage is blue-tinted, adding to the attractiveness of this species. Creeping baby’s-breath is ideal when grown draped over a stone or concrete wall. Another attractive alpine is G. petraea (zone 5), a tufted species with clustered flower heads of white to pale pink flowers on 20 cm stems. Superficially, this species looks like sea-thrift, Armeria. Gypsophila fastigiata is a montane, mat-like species with wiry 30 to 45 cm stems and open sprays of white flowers. There is one relatively popular alpine baby’s-breath which hails from the Himalayas called G. cerastioides (zone 5). This species has rounded leaves, unusual among this genus where narrow, lance-shaped leaves are the norm. The habit is tufted and the loose sprays of relatively large flowers are held just above the leaves. The flowers are white with pink veins and look similar to those of Cerastium.

The next two species to be discussed are more challenging and require scree-like conditions to do well. Gypsophila tenuifolia forms a tight, bright-green dome with wiry stems to 20 cm topped with a loose cluster of relatively large, white flowers. The most unusual species is G. aretioides. This one looks like a domed, green rock and is almost as hard! Extremely dense, this species is grown more for its form than flowers. In fact, flowering is rather scarce with solitary blooms being very small and stemless. These last two species are both rated for zone 5.

In regards to general cultivation, all the various species of Gypsophila prefer full sun and well-drained soil which is alkaline in nature. If your soil is more-or-less acidic, then a yearly application of lime would be very beneficial. Whether your garden is more designed for traditional perennials or if rock gardening is your forte, then there is at least one species of baby’s-breath that would make a useful addition to your garden.


Berries Of The Vaccinium

Every berry in the Vaccinium group is edible, and most of them are exquisitely tasty as well as extra-good for you. (Please be completely sure before you eat anything you find that you didn’t plant. ) Here’s an overview of cranberries, lingonberries, blueberries, huckleberries and more.

Vaccinium berries can be found in nearly all zones. All require acidic soil, either naturally acidic or amended to be acidic. Although most common, commercially available berries (like cranberries and blueberries) are pretty much understood to be one of just a few varieties, lots of locally grown, wild, blue-purple-or-red berries may have different regional names like whortleberries, blaeberries, bilberries, or even razzleberries and may be known as ‘blueberries’ although they may not be blue.

Who knew the huckleberry of Mark Twain’s famous character, Huckleberry Finn, was a actual berry? Not I. The huckleberry is a common name for various small berries in this group.

From the ‘Ōhelo berry (native to Hawaii, USDA zones 10-11) to the lingonberry (native to Scandanavia, Canada, Finland and other cold places), berries in the Vaccinium family are so acidic themselves that they aren’t hard to preserve. You don’t need to add pectin to jell if you’re making jelly; these berries are anxious to jell all by themselves. In fact, the Lingonberry (made familiar to American consumers by IKEA) was often preserved just by mashing it with sugar or storing it in fresh water. About Scandanavian food suggests the following other names for lingonberries: “red whortleberries, cowberries, fox berries, mountain cranberries, mountain bilberries, or partridgeberries,” and that’s just a list of the names in English. The lingonberry marketing people suggest the name lingonberry instead of, for instance, cowberry!

Cranberries (V. caesariense) are slender, trailing, wiry non-woody shoots and strongly reflexed flower petals. Cranberry producers often flood the fields or bogs to facilitate harvest. As I said above, there is so much pectin in cranberries that they are totally easy to jell; add sugar (for taste) and cook (to preserve) to make jam or whole berry “sauce.” Cranberry juice and dried cranberries typically have way too much added sugar to be health food, but appeal to kids and old folks. Cook (to burst and liquefy berries) and preserve.

Read more in the first article I ever wrote for here, all about cranberries. Cranberries are even more popular than they were in 2007. Now the dried berries (sold under the tradename Craisins™) are nearly as popular as cranberry sauce and cranberry juice.

Other species like blueberry, bilberry, blaeberry, are also included in the Vaccinium family. Because berries have more peel per berry than grapes or apples, they are more healthy! You can’t peel them, so you’re stuck with the healthy part like you can with potatoes. (You’re welcome to peel potatoes, apples and carrots.)

Native to Hawaii is the ‘Ōhelo berry. While growing far outside the typical climate for Vaccinium, ‘Ōhelo berries are similar in appearance and flavor–and health benefits. Not as well researched as the cranberry (V. macrocarpon) or the blueberry (V. caesariense), ‘Ōhelo berries, like other Vaccinium berries are tart and packed with vitamins.

Blueberries are the second most popular berry in the US (the strawberry is first). Daves Garden did an entire series on blueberries back in 2007. Blueberries are renowned for their health benefits now, like the cranberry, and medical research is focussing on blueberries as more than just a tasty addition to a bowl of cereal or pancakes. Like most berries, blueberries have a flavinoids concentrated in the tiny peels, are fragile when picked and are popular as additions to baked goods like pancakes, muffins and breads. Blueberries are dried for addition to baked goods.

Why are these particular berries so healthy?

1. The acidic soil, maybe?

All Vaccinium berries grow best in heathy, acidic soils. Growers should adjust the pH of their soils to be like the soil of a pine forest, carpeted with pine needles or peat and tending to the acidic. The pH of soil is often reflected in the color (to wit, hydrangeas) or flavor (…the tangy flavor?…) of the plants, if not in the health of the plant.

2. How about that tiny little peel?

My own theory is that Vaccinium berries’ tart, edible peel is responsible for their healthiness. We’ve all heard that we should eat peels (when they’re edible) instead of peeling our fruits and vegetables. Although peels like citrus and banana are not recommended, most other peels are. Cucumber? Gag it down. Potato? All the vitamins are right there. Apple? Some folks eat apple cores and seeds, too! Is this related to why the berries are so healthy, that we cannot actually peel cranberries, blueberries and huckleberries?

3. Not too sweet?

Unlike grapes, bananas and dates, Vaccinium berries have the a tangy flavor that makes them tasty. Is that same tanginess attached to the vitamins?

Berries possess a high proportion of antioxidants and vitamin-packed flavinoids, and are among the healthiest fruits you can eat. Overall, berries have more fiber per bite and more health-protecting compounds per mouthful.Whatever you think of my theories, everyone can agree that V. berries are tasty and healthy. Try some today. No matter your climate, you can probably find a V. berry that is happy to grow there. Please investigate whether a V. berry is right for you.

Grow your own berries from the Vaccinium group if you can; but if not, buy them and eat them.

Rose Flowers Colors

For as long as writers have been putting words on paper, they have been writing about roses. Roses have been used as symbols of love and war, birth and death, and many more concepts.

Fossil evidence indicates that roses have existed for some 35 million years in nature, and there are 150 species of the genus Rosa. Historians believe that cultivation of the rose began in China 5,000 years ago and then spread westward.

We know that roses were used in ancient celebrations and as a source for perfume by ancient civilizations. During the 17th century, roses were so valued that they were used as legal tender in some parts of the world.

Prized for the beauty of their blooms, their rich colors and their lovely scent, roses long have been a popular flower to give and to receive.

However, did you know that you convey certain messages just with the color of rose you choose? Roses are rich in symbolism. Here is a guide to the meanings of different rose colors.

Red Roses

As the most popular rose color, the color red reveals a message of love, respect, admiration or devotion.

In addition, a deep red rose can show heartfelt regret or sorrow. The number of red roses also has special meaning. A dozen red roses conveys, “I love you”

Pink Roses

The pink rose offers a message of gratitude and appreciation. The gentle color also reveals joy and admiration.

White Roses

White roses symbolize purity and innocence. They also can represent new beginnings, which is why they are a popular choice for weddings.

Their quiet, simple beauty also makes white roses a good choice for a bouquet of remembrance and honor.

Orange Roses

These fiery blooms convey energy and passion. They rival red in making an elegant and bold statement.

Lavender Roses

This lovely subtle color can convey a desire to be more than just friends. They also can serve as a reminder of devotion and respect. Dark shades convey a sense of royalty and splendor.

Yellow Roses

If you could describe yellow roses in one word, it would be with cheerful. As result, yellow roses convey friendship and warm feelings. A bouquet of yellow roses can mean “congratulations” or “welcome.”

Blue Roses

The rare blue rose offers a sense of mystery. It can give the message that you are thinking of someone special.

Green Roses

Green roses represent renewal and earthy qualities. They convey a message of cheerfulness and are a good choice in a “Get well” bouquet.

Peach Roses

A bouquet of peach roses shows deep appreciation. Give them to someone who has been especially thoughtful and kind.

Black Roses

Black roses are actually very dark red roses. Their black appearance conveys the message of the ending of a relationship or of death.

Assorted Roses

When you give someone a multi-color bouquet of colors, you can reveal that you have mixed emotions. Selecting two colors can convey a combination of two emotions. Red and white, for instance, can show deep devotion.

Numbers game

In addition to colors, the number of roses you send or display can convey special meaning.

A single rose shows thanks or devotion.

Two entwined roses can indicate a marriage proposal.

Six roses indicate a desire to be loved.

Eleven roses reveal deep devotion

Twelve red roses mean, “I love you.”

Thirteen roses are the sign of a secret admirer

Now that you know some of the traditions behind roses, you can enhance the gift of roses this holiday season — or any time of year — with special meaning.

Star of Bethlehem

“For those who have troubles, for those who are unhappy, for those who have received bad news, a loss, or an accident, the Snowdrop gives them comfort.” – Author Unknown.

Early this spring, I was walking in my gardens and I happened to see something white growing very close to my house behind a cluster of daylilies, coralbells, sedum and a newly planted rosebush. I have nothing that has a white bloom and could not imagine what it was. The daylilies and coralbells nearly covered it, and the rose was getting ready to bloom. I looked more closely and was surprised to find a cluster of Star of Bethlehem.

You know when you sniff the scent of something that reminds you of your childhood, and you are instantly taken back in time? Or when you glance at a piece of lace and you think suddenly of Aunt Lucy and the lacy handkerchief she was never without? Star of Bethlehem did that very thing to me. I remembered Aunt Bett.

I knew that the little plant with the sweet white flowers grew from a bulb, so a bird didn’t bring it. I also knew the soil had not been disturbed in more than twenty years when I planted the daylilies and coral bells. The rose was new, but it was at least eight feet from the little white plant. So where did it come from? It had been a staple for my Great Aunt Bett, so was she now wreaking havoc in my garden? Sneaking up in the middle of the night and leaving surprises for me to find? I guess I will never know, but that little plant sure brought back some memories.

The Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalium umbellatum) is a member of the lily family and is also known as the Snowdrop. It is mentioned in history and research tells us that its English name seems to date from the Middle Ages and the Crusaders. The bulbs were sometimes used as emergency rations during their pilgrimages to the Holy Land. When I was going on my mountain journeys with Aunt Bett, we found it in dappled sunlight near the cool, clear mountain streams. Aunt Bett collected it for its little bulbs, but I was only allowed to hold the bag open for her to drop them in to. “I just want you with me,” she said, “this ain’t something you can help me make.”

Her use of the Snowdrop was a puzzle to me because it was not one of the plants that I was allowed to touch or even to sample. “This is powerful medicine, chile, an’ it ain’t for the likes of little ones,” she said, “it can wipe out a whole mess of cows if they ever get ahold of it, I don’t think I want to lose you.” Well. I was not a cow, so surely it wouldn’t bother me, not while I was wearing the asphidity bag. But I listened to Aunt Bett while she told me what she would do with it, and I watched her every move. She chopped the bulbs from the plants and saved all of them in a pan. Then she washed them thoroughly, cut them in half and covered them with water. She put them on the stove and brought them to a boil. They boiled for about 20 minutes, then she let them sit for an hour. She repeated the process three times, adding a little more water each time. She was making it into a decoction.

“Long time ago, folks ate the roots, and if they was real hungry they ate them raw. Most of the time they was cooked, biled or roasted like chestnuts. Most nobody eats them now cause if they ain’t used right, they can bring on sickness more’n they cure.” I asked her if she knew how to use them right, but she just gave me that Aunt Bett look. Later I learned that it was a heart stimulant with a digitalis reaction. No wonder she would not let me sample it. When I was older and allowed to hear such things, she told me that it would ease a woman’s labor, if used in combination with other flower herbs. It was also used as a mood elevator for those who had suffered trauma, loss of a companion, or something like the shock that can follow an accident, and her notes tell me that in those instances the Star of Bethlehem was also mixed with other herbal flowers. Today it is still in use by homeopaths, but with some caution. They make a tincture from the bulb which they claim is useful in some cases of cancer. This is certainly not advised by medical specialists. I have learned that herbalists also continue to use it as a mood elevator. Please be advised of the toxicity of this plant and always handle it accordingly.

You might be wondering what I did with those that suddenly appeared in my garden. You might also consider them invasive and you will find a lot of others who agree. Well, I have no cows nearby, and my cats live indoors and certainly are not grazers. So I dug them up and planted them underneath the maple tree in my back yard. I used my trusty gardening gloves when I moved them. The blooms and the foliage are gone now, but will reappear in the spring, and I will have them to remind me of my days in the mountains with Aunt Bett.