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Category Archives: Garden

Garden Blue Flag Iris

Many gardeners think blue flag iris, I. versicolor, are only useful for water gardens but as long as the soil remains evenly moist, they make admirable plants for the standard garden. With over 20 selections to choose from, this iris demands a second look.

For gardeners interested in water features, one of the premier native plants is the blue flag iris, Iris versicolor. However, this plant is not restricted for use only in water gardens. If the soil remains evenly moist, blue flags will grow quite happily in a regular garden setting, thus they can be utilized in the border or in wildflower gardens. They prefer organic-rich, acidic soil and full sun. They are very hardy plants, surviving into zone 3, even 2 if there is adequate winter mulch. In height, they can vary from 30 cm to over 100cm.

In the wild, blue flags grow from Minnesota east to New England, south to Virginia and north into eastern Canada, from Manitoba east to Newfoundland. Flowers are mostly in various shades of violet-blue, from mid tones to dark velvety shades. However, with such a large distributional range, other more interesting colour forms often spontaneously arise. Gardeners, nurseries and plant breeders are quick to notice these aberrant forms and introduce them into their gardens. The result is that today there are well over 20 named selections, ranging in colour from white through reddish-pink to nearly black.

Among the more classic blue cultivars are ‘Cat Mousam’, ‘China West Lake’ and ‘Whodunit’. I have been fortunate in the wilds of Newfoundland to find a couple of light blue selections with darker veining. These appear somewhat similar to the popular ‘Between the Lines’. Others in the light violet-blue category are ‘Light Verse’ and ‘Epic Poem’. Both of these are essentially white but have such dense light violet-blue veins that, from a distance, the flowers appear pale blue.

‘Murrayana’ is a true alba form, being completely snow-white with yellow at the base of the falls. There is some dispute if this plant is a true I. versicolor (refer to my earlier article ‘The Story of Iris versicolor ‘Murrayana’) as the flower shape is somewhat unusual but according to the current literature, it is indeed considered an alba form of I. versicolor. ‘Little Rhyme’ is a white form with a classical blue flag shape but on a dwarf 30 cm plant. ‘Versicle’ is also white but has scattered pale lavender-blue veins which imparts an attractive ice-blue colour.

The rest of the more popular selections are varying shades of reddish-violet. These include ‘Party Line’, ‘Shape Up’, ‘Raspberry Slurp’, ‘Versijack’ and ‘Kermesina’. ‘Mint Fresh’ and ‘Candystriper’ are notable in being white with heavy reddish-violet veins, which from a distance, impart a light pink colour to the blooms. ‘Pink Peaks’ is a medium reddish-violet selection that is quite dwarf, under 30 cm.

Among the darkest selections are ‘Wild Wine’ which is deep velvety reddish-violet. Perhaps the most striking is ‘Mysterious Monique’. This selection is rich, dark purple and from a distance appears nearly black. The signal of most blue flags is yellow but the signal of ‘Mysterious Monique’ is white, which only adds to the striking appearance of this selection. No doubt, more selections of I. versicolor will arise. As an active breeder of this group of iris, I hope to one day release selections of my own…stay tuned!

Among the dark selections are ‘Wild Wine’ and ‘Mysterious Monique’


At 45 letters, “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” is considered to be the longest word in the dictionary. It’s the name for a disease of the lungs, caused by the inhalation of silica dust. “Phytoremediation” comes nowhere close to this length, but is still a mouthful. It comes from the Greek word “phyto” meaning “plant” and the Latin word “remedium” which means “restoring balance.”

(Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 28,2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

What, precisely, is phytoremediation?

Enough etymology. Simply put, phytoremediation is the use of plants to clean up environmental pollution in soil and water. Contaminants include metals, pesticides, fertilizers, and–our biggest worry at the moment-crude oil. These plants also help to prevent weather and groundwater from transporting pollution away from a polluted site to other areas.

How does it work?

Certain plants have the amazing ability to break down pollutants or contain and stabilize them by acting as filters or traps. In most cases, this involves the root system of the plant. Roots in these plants provide a very large surface area to absorb and accumulate not only nutrients essential to growth, but also most contaminants. These are either stored or broken down into benign compounds.

The use of trees in this process is gaining popularity, primarily because of their extensive and deep-seated root systems. Their roots can more effectively trap and absorb pollutants, even those that leach down into ground water many feet beneath the soil surface.

Case in pointThe use of poplar trees (Populus spp.)– or any other tree for that matter–in phytoremediation was pioneered by Lou Licht, a graduate student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa. In 1991 he planted a test plot of 11,000 poplar trees along a creek that serves as drainage for the surrounding farm fields about eight miles from my home in South Amana. The creek drains directly into a local lake called simply “The Lily Lake,” because of its lotus lilies and their spectacular bloom in July and August. See photos of plaques at right for further information.

Licht’s experiment was a great success, and proved instrumental in boosting the recognition and fortunes of his company, Ecolotree, founded in 1990. It has the distinction of being the oldest phytoremediation firm in the world.

Why use poplars?

o Greater than 25 species worldwide (Species most commonly used in phytoremediation include P. deltoids, P. trichocarpa, P. simonii, and P. nigra.)
o Fast growing (3 to 5 meters/year)
o High transpiration rates (100 liters/day optimally for a 5 year old tree) for drawing moisture and contaminants from the soil
o Not part of the food chain
o Can be used for paper production or as biomass for energy
o Relatively long-lived (up to 30 years)
o Easily grown from cuttings
o Can be harvested and then regrown from the stump
o Can extend roots down to the water table and pump from the zone of saturation, making them natural solar-driven pump and treat systems.

A lone Canadian Goose paddles among the lily pads, and Trumpeter swans enjoy the peacefulness of a cove at the Lily Lake. Wildlife now flourishes in the lake and its surroundings as never before. New species since the onset of the phytoremediation project include a multitude of Canadian Geese, wild Trumpeter Swans, Bald Eagles, otters, and mink. Other denizens include muskrats, turtles, and many different species of birds and fish. Fishing is not a common activity at the lake, since the waterlilies cover almost the entire surface of the water for most of the season.

What is that Dracaenas ??

Dracaenas are Agave relatives and are a large group of plants that include some of the more popular house plants as well as some of the most striking xeric and massive trees used in outdoor landscaping. This article is an introduction to this interesting group of plants.

Dracaena is a large genus of primarily African monocot plants of which there are well over 100 accepted species, most which will not be covered in this article and are virtually unknown in cultivation. However, some are commonly grown landscape trees in some areas of the world, and others are easily among the most popular of all the house plants. Currently most plant sites list Dracaenas in the family Asparagaceae, along with a lot of other similar plants, such as Cordylines, Beaucarneas and Dasylirions (etc.). But they have been bumped about a bit, from the family Liliaceae and Agavaceae to Ruscaceae (which is where they are in the Davesgarden Plantfiles at the time this article was written, but should probably be moved). It sometimes gets old when your plants are continually being reclassified and lumped in different ways. Still, the plants themselves could not care less. It will be difficult to discuss Dracaenas without also discussing Cordylines, their southern cousins from Australia and nearby exotic places (exotic to me, at least). So I will sort of touch upon them, too, but leave the bulk of Cordyline talk for a subsequent article.

Some generalities about Dracaenas are that they are generally solitary plants with single stems (or trunks, or sometimes called ‘canes’) and are either branched or not- most species seem to branch eventually once they get older, but start out as palm-like plants with a top rosette of leaves and a naked stem. Dracaenas are often mistaken for palms, and are often seen in the plant identification section of Davesgarden with a query as to what species of palm they are. Some are immensely tall and massive, such as the very old Dracaena dracos from the Canary Islands (and commonly grown here in California). And some are pretty tiny such as the ‘Lucky Bamboo’ (actually a Dracaena species) often sold at curiosity shops with their canes braided in various ornamental patterns. Some are very drought tolerant and can survive months without any water, performing quite well as xeric landscape plants. While others are very tropical and can grow with their stems in water all the time (again, the ‘Lucky Bamboo’ tolerate this quite well). Most Dracaenas are listed frequently on toxic plant lists, but none are very toxic. However, unlike their close cousins, the Cordylines, these are not cultivated as a food source.

Dracaena draco in a cactus garden, looking somewhat like a palm, Dracaena braunii, aka Lucky Bamboo.

They grow like a typical monocot with leaves erupting from a central meristem and forming a circular rosette of leaves that hang on along the stem until, with age, they slough off. These leaves anchor themselves around the stem, unlike dicot leaves which tend to grow straight out of stems from a single point. This makes their removal or ‘pruning’ quite easy, as one can simply pull the lowest leaf off the stem one at a time by unsheathing it with a downward pull. This is usually preferred in smaller cultivated plants, rather than leaving the dead leaves to fall off constantly, and creates a neat, tidy appearance.

Dracaena draco showing leaves erupting all from same point (meristem) shows leaf bases and scars where leaves have been removed from

One of the common names of the Dracaenas, as a group, is the Dragon Tree. However only a few Dracaenas develop into ‘tree’s- the rest being are smaller, shrubby plants. Though these do not look anything like dragons, at least some of the tree species (Dracaena draco and Dracaena cinnabari) have reddish sap when cut. That red dye has mythological ties to dragon blood, which was shed by Hercules killing a dragon who’s blood then somehow stimulated the subsequent growth of the dragon trees. Dracaena means female dragon in ancient Greek). The problem with the name Dragon Tree is it also applies to a very dissimilar tree called the Paulowania tree (a very fast growing lumber tree from Australia- a true dicot tree). And some Dragon Fruit does not common from the Dragon Tree, but from a cactus.

Another common name applied to one of the most common indoor house plants is the Corn Plant, thanks to is vague similarity to a real corn plant (another upright slender monocot). This name specifically refers to Dracaena fragrans, but sometimes is used to describe other species as well.

Dracaena draco– the Dragon Tree: This is a large, very long-lived species from the Canary Islands, some nearby islands and the very western edge of Morocco (African mainland). One of the most massive trees on the planet is an estimated 650 year old Dracaena draco specimen on the Canary Islands. I have seen large, old specimens here in California, but they are dwarfed by this monster (see below). Older specimens have been known and reportedly grow over seventy feet in height.

This species of Dracaena has very thick, leathery, rough-surfaced and somewhat fleshy, succulent leaves unlike most of the other commonly grown Dracaenas in cultivation. The tips of the leaves are blunted. Removing a living leaf from the trunk will result in a minor ‘bleed’ as some of the red dye this tree is named for will show up as a moist red ring at the leaf scar. This dye is used in cultivation as source of lacquer color (supposedly Stradivarius violins were dyed with this substance). As the leaves age, they dry up and fall from the trunk, leaving a ringed but very smooth, almost shiny trunk that is very ornamental in younger plants. The fresh leaf scars leave an almost woven-like pattern that unfortunately fades with age. This pattern, from a distance, gives the trunks a basket-weave appearance. Older trunks become more woody and ordinary in appearance. At the point of branching, each new stem has a narrow base giving the overall plant a somewhat cartoon appearance as though it had muscular arms relatively to their skinnier joints.The overall effect is unique and ornamental.

Dragon trees are commonly grown xeriscape plants in Mediterranean and desert climates as they are extremely drought, heat and wind tolerant. Though starting out as branchless, palm-like plants, they eventually start to branch at their flowering points, and then branch again, and again at each point the tree makes a flower. Eventually massive heads of thick green agave-like leaves topping smooth, succulent stems cover a wide area and threaten to come crashing down, even bringing down the entire plant if too top heavy. Many older, top-heavy specimens in botanical gardens can be seen held up with supporting poles.

Even these plants can fall over in heavy winds as they are so top heavy. This tree has some root rot from being planted in very clayey soil (left); right shows a yound plant flowering- likely it will branch at that point now.

These trees are very slow growing and it can take several lifetimes to get these to a tree-like landscaping size. But if given plenty of water in the summers and grown in well draining soils, their growth rates can be maximized. Plants grown from seed can reach several feet in under 10 years if grown well.

Some similar species to Dracaena draco include Dracaena cinnabari, a native to Socotra where it dominates much of the landscape (a landscape known for its striking and bizarre flora). This species differs primarily in having many more leaves per crown and the leaves are longer, stiffer and end in a definite point. If anything, these magnificent trees are even more spectacular than Dracaena dracos, forming nearly perfect symmetrical umbrella-like crowns on thick stalks. Photos of this plant are often stunning and ornamental. It is a threatened species collected locally for its red dye.

Dracaena serrulata is another similar species even rarer in cultivation. This species is native to Oman and Yemen. Though not quite as ornamental as it cousins, it still is an impressive tree-like plant growing up over thirty feet. Leaves a more scimitar-like, stiff and blue-grey.

The remainder of the Dracaenas commonly encountered in cultivation are shrubby plants who’s stems are referred to as canes rather than trunks. Some of these (notably Dracaena fragrans, marginata and reflexa) are very popular and relatively easy house plants. They are not only popular for their ornamental appeal, but they reported are natural low level air filters and have been known to reduce formaldehyde levels in room air (is formaldehyde a common problem in room air?).

Dracaena fragrans, aka the Cornstalk Dracaena, is probably the best known of all the Dracaena species. Numerous cultivar variations of this plant can be found in virtually all malls throughout the US and show up in many nurseries for sale as common house plants. This plant is native to much of tropical Africa where it can grow up over forty feet in height, though looking more like a clump of skinny palm trees rather than an impressive tree with a single large trunk. Most Dracaeana fragrans have thin, arching, sometimes undulating and usually glossy lancelote leaves that radiate out from the central canes in rosettes typical of the monocotyledonous plan. There is some variation in leaf thickness, length and waviness. But the primary variations in cultivation are the color and striping patterns which there seem to be a nearly endless variety. Though most Dracaena fragrans have narrow canes or stems from one half to one inch in diameter, at least one variety (Dracanea fragrans ‘Massageana’), the corn plant, has a trunk-like stem up to four inches in diameter. Flowers are quite showy and exceptionally sweet smelling (hence the name fragrans).Indoor plants may even flower now and then filling the entire home with their scent.

Though these plants are from tropical Africa and they look like palms, one should not treat them like palms when growing them indoors. They are extremely hardy, tolerant of low light and humidity, but do not tolerate being constantly wet. Rotting of the root ball is probably the most common cultivational problem of these indoor plants. Most recommendations on caring for these as indoor plants suggest letting the soil dry out before watering again. On the other hand, letting this plant dry out too long will result in brown tipping and death of the lower leaves prematurely. Reportedly many of the indoor Dracaena species are sensitive to fluoride in tap water. For treating plants that seem to brown tipping too much, one might try treated (reverse osmosis) water or rain water. A good soaking of the soil every now and then (yearly for example) to flush out accumulated salts that collect on the root hairs is a good idea. Fertilization should be kept to a minimum as well (but that pretty much goes for most indoor plants).

One of the best things about these plants is they can be pruned easily and will often result in two plants instead of just a shorter one. These are very easy to reroot and propagate in such a fashion.If one happens to rot their plant by overwatering, all one usually needs to do is remove all the rotted tissue (with some margin for safety) and reroot the entire plant. And if they grow too tall or leggy, again, chop the tops off and re-root them. The original plant will usually regrow from the cut area, often branching into multiple canes as well.

These need plenty of light indoors and though they do tolerate very low light situations, they will not stay healthy that way long, and their colors will be abnormal. Direct sun, however, is not recommended for indoor plants. Outdoors, most of these tolerate some direct sun except in very hot, arid climates.

Note that this species has many synonyms. Dracaena massangeana and Dracaena compacta are two common ones, but also Dracaena deremensis and Dracaena warneckii are two more

Dracaena marginata, also referred to as the Dragon Tree (though apparently less accurately as these do not bleed red) or Red Margined Dracaena, is nearly equally popular as a house plant though far less varieties are available in cultivation. This Madagascan native has even thinner stems and far thinner leaves than do Dracaena fragrans. The multicolor or rainbow variety is the most popular by far, but all green or maroon- leaf varieties are still very commonly encountered in cultivation. Dracaena marginata flowers are fairly small and do not that great an odor.

Dracaena marginatas ‘type’ species in mall left; Dracaena marginata growing outdoors in Hawaii showing it can become a relatively large tree in the right situatiion (never gets this large indoors) center; right shows close up of leaves on plant in my yard

Some sources have Dracaena marginata as a supspecies of Dracaena reflexa, but somehow both names are accepted in the World Check List of Plants, so I unclear which is the correct scientific name for this species (or subspecies). Either way, Draceana reflexa is a very similar species and some forms are so similar I cannot tell them apart. Additionally, some forms are very similar to some of the Dracaena fragrans varieties in terms of variegation and leaf size/shape. In general, Dracaena reflexa leaves seem to be shorter and the canes tend to snake about more not always growing upright. Some of the common names for Dracaena reflexa include ‘Song of India’, ‘Song of Jamaica’, ‘Song of Java’ etc (depending on the cultivar leaf color). Dracaena reflexa are native to several islands of the Indian Ocean (and Madagascar, if one includes Dracaena marginata into Dracaena reflexa).

More Dracaena reflexa ‘Song of India’ shots- left at a nursery; right showing flowers on plant in Hawaii. These flowers are not nearly as nice smelling as those of Dracaena fragrans and are typical of this species as well as Dracaena marginata.

Dracaena marginata and Dracaena reflexa are treated pretty much the same in cultivation as Dracaena fragrans. However, in my experience, Dracaena reflexa is more cold sensitive and one rarely sees these grown as outdoor plants in southern California, while Dracaena marginatas are commonly encountered

Other species of Dracaena one may come across in cultivation include some of these plants below.

Dracaena braunii (aka Dracaena sanderiana) aka Lucky Bamboo: this is a very common plant in cultivation and amazing, intricate weavings of its canes are often seen in shops around the world. This is a very tropical species from Africa and parts of Asia where it grows in the dense undergrowth, rarely seeing full sun. Unlike some of the above species, this is a small caned plant that grows very well if its roots are kept in just an inch or two of water. It will grow very slowly in this manner, with regular changes of water (weekly), and occasional fertiliization (very dilute liquid fertilizer). The better the water quality, the better the plant will look (water high in salts and flouride will be hard on this plant, as it is on most plants). Dracaena braunii can also be grown in soil, but there one should let the top of the soil dry out a little between waterings or even this species can rot.

More Dracaena plants below. Note that some of these species are much more highly branched and look a lot less typical of the monocot rosette-on-a-pole growth plan.

Dracaena cantleyi is a rare plant in cultivation, but my palm growing friend has it in his backyard and it is doing quite well here in California. This is the more typical monocot style.

Dracaena ‘Juanita’ at a nursery , Dracaena goldiana at same nursery. These two Dracaenas do not show the typical monocot shape or growth pattern and I am unsure how they fit into the genus in terms of relationship.

The Genus Cordyline, as mentioned above, is a very closely related genus in the family Asparagaceae but a different subfamily (Lomandroidea instead of Nolinoideae). Both Dracaenas and Cordylines look very much like their Yucca cousins. Some sources lump the two genera together. Cordylines are primarily used in as outdoor plants in cultivation with the exception of the most popular species, Cordyline fruiticosa (the Ti Plants). Below are a few photos of Cordylines, but more about these plants will be discussed in a future article.

What is that Selaginella ??

Every once in a while the gardener discovers, quite by accident, one plant or another that becomes an all-time favorite. Such is my experience with arborvitae fern (Selaginella braunii). My introduction to this plant happened a few years back when I visited the garden of a neighbor. I was smitten from the beginning.

On the day of my visit, my neighbor showed me a beautiful mass of plants growing in a container. She called it Selaginella.That was easy for me to remember because my neighbor’s name is Sally, and my sister-in-law’s name is Gennella. Put the two together, and you have sallygennella, which is close enough to help me remember the generic name.

Selaginella braunii (Arborvitae Fern)

Even though this plant has arborvitae fern as its common name, it is not a fern at all, but is a prehistoric fern relative called club moss or spike moss. Since it is a vascular plant that produces spores, it is often mistaken for a fern. Scaly foliage resembles that of arborvitae or cedar. Fronds of finely dissected foliage look delicate, but quite the opposite is true. Arborvitae fern is a tough, hard-working plant that fulfils its groundcover role quite admirably.

Several years ago I planted three one-gallon containers of arborvitae fern in my garden. Gradually it has grown to cover the ground with a solid mass that inhibits weed growth and remains attractive year round. In fall it turns a rusty color, and often, by spring it turns tan after hard frosts kill the above-ground portion of the plant.

Experimentation has taught me to leave the winter-burned foliage to its own devices. This past year, I mowed about half of the arborvitae fern and left the other half as it was. Spring brought about a new flush of growth that soon covered both areas. I was hard-pressed to tell which side had been mowed. From now on I won’t bother with the extra work involved in mowing the area.

Planting and Caring for Arborvitae Fern

Site arborvitae fern in a moist but well drained spot in shade to part shade. Amend sand or heavy clay soil by incorporating a two- or three-inch layer of compost or humus. Plant quart or gallon-sized containers a foot or so apart. Water as needed to maintain damp soil. Fertilize in early spring just as new growth begins with all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer.

The club mosses can be divided easily at any time of year. Simply separate mature clumps and replant the divisions. Cuttings root easily if inserted in soil and kept damp. It is also possible to grow from spores.

Other Species of Selaginella

The GRIN website lists 33 species of Selaginella, although other references list 56 or more. Some accounting for the differences in opinion has to do with the taxonomic splitters who separate plants into different species based on very minute differences. and the lumpers who tend to group plants with similar traits into one species. All agree that the family is Selaginellaceae, and Selaginella is the only genus in the family.

Peacock fern (Selaginella uncinata), also sometimes known as blue spike-moss or rainbow fern, is a diminutive (6 inches tall, spreading to 2 feet) club moss noted for its bluish green iridescent leaves. It is hardy from zones 6 to 10.

Gemmiferous spikemoss (Selaginella moellendorffii) (zones 7 to 10) is an easy-to-grow species from China that bears tiny plantlets that drop off and form new colonies. Dave’s Garden PlantScout lists four sources for this plant.

Golden club moss (Selaginella kraussiana) is a popular species. Native to South Africa, this small, creeping species forms dense mats of green foliage. Some cultivars, with such apt names as ‘Aurea’ and ‘Gold Tip’ have golden yellow leaves and stems, or stems tipped with bright, lime green.

Several species are native to the United States and Canada, and like those from other parts of the world, they vary from wetland species to those that grow in dry deserts, such as Selaginella lepidophylla (flower of stone). Sometimes sold as a novelty plant in its dry state, this “resurrection plant” turns green when water is added.

Red spike-moss or rock spike moss (Selaginella rupestris) is native to all of the eastern United States and the Southern Canadian provinces. Threatened in Indiana and presumed extirpated in Ohio, the range of this spike moss is sporadic and limited to mostly rocky places.

The ornamental Selaginellas look great in hanging baskets or in containers skirting taller plants. Small selections are useful in terrariums. It is excellent in front of taller shade plants such as caladium, aspidistra, and impatiens.

Following the visit to my neighbor’s garden, I began to notice Selaginella in garden centers. Keep your eyes open as you visit your favorite nurseries, and investigate on-line sources. You may find several species that would make great additions to your garden.

Vegetable Garden in season autumn

Autumn is here. What could be better than starting a fall vegetable garden?

The leaves are just starting to turn colors, the heat has finally started letting up, and many plants and bugs are starting to die down (especially those pesky weeds pests). The grills are being fired up even more now that there’s a slight, comfortable chill in the air, and people are starting to come out of their air conditioned homes in the cooler evenings to enjoy the weather.

In some growing zones, September is too late to start any kind of planting other than what winters over. But, in zones 5 and up, now is the perfect time to start those cool-weather plants that grow quickly.

Read on for a list of the best vegetables to get growing in a fall garden and a few tips and tricks to help get the most out of your plants.

Which Plants Are Good for Fall Gardening?

Leafy greens are perfect for a fall garden. They are already quick-growing plants, but they grow even better in the cooler weather that comes with the autumn season. All of these listed can be directly sown in the soil. One really good thing about them is they grow well in containers so you can bring them in if it does get too cold. You can also cut the outer leaves on the plants and they will grow more to replace them. This is advisable for the warmer days to prevent bolting.

Baby spinach takes as little as 4-6 weeks to be ready. Mature leaves are usually ready between 6-8 weeks. Loose leaf lettuce leaves are usually ready to cut in 30 days or so. Baby kale and mustard greens can be harvested in around 25 days, and the more mature leaves are usually ready in 50-65 days.

Swiss chard is harvestable as early as 30-35 days with baby leaves being ready sooner. They can handle frost much better than other leafy greens, and some varieties can even winter over and grow back for several years, especially when there is no hard freeze.

Yellow squash and zucchini usually have edibles in as little as 50 days, especially if they receive plenty of water and sun. They might not get as big as when planted in the spring, but they have more flavor when eaten small. These little beauties cannot handle frost though, so if you want to keep them growing, you might want to use row covers on colder nights.

Broccoli takes about 45-60 days to mature, depending on the variety, and are perfect for the cooler weather. They can actually handle some frost and keep going. It is better to have started seeds a couple of weeks prior to summer ending, but that shouldn’t stop you from planting now. They will still grow, but they may not be as large as summer pickings.

Spring radishes are ready in 20-25 days. They are one of the fastest growing vegetable there is. Directly sow their seeds into the ground. In two and a half weeks, start pushing on the soil and see if there is a bulb.

Carrots are great cold weather vegetables. Baby carrot varieties can be harvested after about 30-35 days while other varieties take up to 50 or more. Fall carrots tend to be sweeter, possibly due to the already warm soil versus in the spring when the soil is cold. They can grow throughout the winter, just mulch to protect them from frost.

More Tips and Tricks

Most of these plants do not handle droughts well. If your area is experiencing a dry season, make sure to keep the plants watered. A soaker hose or sprinkler is fine, but you can also just water them manually if needed. It is always best to water in the mornings or early afternoons.

Check with your local forecast and other sources such as the Almanac to learn what your first expected frost date is. Make sure to plant far enough ahead of that date that your plants will be ready for harvest beforehand. In many cases, if they are not ready, you can cover them overnight to protect them from frost.

Mulch your plants. Good mulch can help protect plants from freezing a little longer. Be wary though, as not all of the bugs have gone away. Slugs and other pests may use the mulch to hide under during the day. Set out beer traps or iron phosphate baits to protect your plants.

There are many other plants that can be planted in a fall garden; it all depends on your growing zones and the dates of first frosts. The later your first frost, the more options you have available. These two websites can help you check your frost dates: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Both sites have some great information on seasonal growing, when to grow, how to grow, where to grow.

Grow of Fleabanes

The genus Erigeron, commonly called fleabanes, is quite large. Appearing much like asters, they bloom earlier in the season, helping to extend the ‘daisy’ season. They are also ideal for the butterfly garden. If you are not already growing some, hopefully this article will entice you to start!

Fleabanes…where does one start to describe this vast group of plants? For the moment, there are well over 200 species of Erigeron, many of them native to North America. I say ‘for the moment’ as plant taxonomists have been very busy lately reclassifying the North American Asteraceae and no doubt, more than a few Erigeron may end up on the chopping block! As an example, I don’t know if there are even any true Asters left in North America. But I digress. Fleabanes on the whole, are relatively small-stature plants that appear very similar to asters, however, they mostly bloom early in the season while most asters are late summer to fall-bloomers. The flowers are most commonly white, pink or purple shaded but rarely, may be yellow. They include annual, biennial and perennial species. Some can be troublesome weeds while others have very diminutive, non-showy blossoms. But there are plenty of attractive, garden-worthy species.

Most fleabane are rather undemanding plants. Full sun and well-drained soil are their main requirements. Many exhibit reasonable drought-tolerance. The taller types are ideal for the front of the border (even the tall ones are mostly under 90 cm height). Most are under 30 cm making them ideal for rock gardens. They are generally easy from seed not requiring any special treatment. Many are also easily divided. The taller cultivars provide wonderful, long-lasting cut-flowers and all the fleabanes are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Depending on the species, they may be grown from zone 9 to zone 2.

Two standard border fleabane hybrids are ‘Azure Fairy’ and ‘Pink Jewel’

There are way too many fleabanes to describe individually so I will touch upon the most popular types. Perhaps the most well-known are the border types that originate mostly from E. speciosus, E. glaucus and E. peregrinus, all species native to western North America. There are numerous named cultivars, ranging in height from 45 to 75 cm (60 cm being the most common height). Colours vary from white, through shades of pink, lavender and violet to nearly true-blue and red. Blooms may be single, semi-double of fully double. In themselves, the wild ancestral species are as equally garden-worthy as their modern-day offspring. They all bloom mid-summer. Growing 30-50 cm is another western fleabane called E. glabellus. It may be used along the front of the border as well, but can also be used in a large rock garden setting.

E. glabellus and E. speciosus

The other more popular fleabanes are small alpine types best suited for rock gardens. One of the most widespread species in North America is E. compositus, a tufted species with single white flowers in late spring-early summer. Similar is E. pinnatisectus, with finely cut foliage but lavender blossoms. Another choice alpine species is E. leiomerus which forms a small mat with 10 cm stems topped with good-sized lavender-blue flowers. Similar is E. simplex, another small species with purple-blue flowers. The only native fleabane in my area is a delicate species called E. hyssopifolius. This one forms a tufted mound with somewhat trailing stems ending in white flowers. For gardeners in the western U.S. and Canada, there are several other desirable alpine fleabanes to choose from.

E. compositus, E. pinnasectus and E. hyssopifolius

There are only a handful of yellow-flowered fleabanes and most of these have proven to be challenging to grow outside their native areas. One notable exception is E. aureus, a delightful tufted species with numerous 10-15 stems topped with one-inch daisies from late spring through early summer. In cool summer regions like my home (Newfoundland, Canada) this fleabane blooms from late May through September!

E. aureus and E. karvinskianus

A very popular trailing species is E. karvinskianus, a species native to Mexico. This plant is often sold as a bedding annual for trailing over rock walls or hanging baskets. A profusion of white or pink-tinted blooms are produced for months on end. This one is only hardy to zone 7 so is only suitable as a perennial in mild climates. This species can become a little weedy in mild regions and is now naturalized throughout southern Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

As you can see, the more showy members of the genus Erigeron are delightful plants worthy of a place in any garden.


Boxwood has a use in almost any garden. It can be sheared into neat geometic shapes for a formal garden setting, or left to grow into it’s natural shape for a more casual look. As far as height, you will find anything from 2′ to 15′. There are cultivars with variegated foliage for a different look. It is as well suited for a hedge as it is for a specimen planting. Come with me as I take a closer look at this very popular shrub.

Just a bit of background first. Boxwood, or Buxus is a genus of about 70 species. They are native to parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Madagascar, South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Only the European and some Asian species are frost-tolerant; the remainder are tropical and sub-tropical. These shrubs are slow-growing and evergreen.

I purchased a group of Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ to plant spaced around my pool fence. My requirements were that it be hardy in my zone (6a) and not over 2′ or so high. This is what my landscaper recommended. The photo at the left is one as it was delivered from the nursery. I did some reading after they were planted, in PlantFiles here at Dave’s Garden and on the web.
This is a hybrid boxwood, Buxus sempervirens x B. microphylla var. koreana, a cross between B. sempervirens, or American boxwood and B. microphylla var. koreana, Littleleaf Korean boxwood. What I found is that it is hardy to zone 5a. I am in 6a, so this sounded good until I read further. In USDA Zones 5 and 6, this boxwood is best sited in a sheltered location which protects it in winter from strong winds and full sun. In my yard it is planted in full sun with no protection from strong winds (and, believe me, we get strong winds). The listed size is 3′ by 3’… not too bad. I have no intention of shearing these shrubs into ‘bowling balls,’ but trimming enough to keep them in bounds and keep the center open so light can get to the inside branches is routine maintenance that I can manage. At right, you can see 3 of the 9 plants I purchased in their permanent homes. This was their first winter in my garden. I don’t find the ‘bronzing’ of the leaves (next photo) unattractive, but it seems it isn’t good for the plant. It means that the leaves have gotten dessicated (dried out) from the harsh winter winds. The last photo is one of my shrubs beginning to recover from the winter. At this point I’m not going to replace them, but I may try spraying them with an anti-dessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf, next fall. I am pleased that all 9 of them made it through the winter.

In truth, this was not my introduction to boxwood. There was one cone-shaped shrub in my original landscaping that was simply labelled ‘boxwood’ on the plan. It never occurred to me to ask for more details. Unfortunately, it declined rather quickly and this soured me on boxwood in general for a while. That is until I realized that I had voles in my front garden and it was highly likely that these rodents had eaten the roots of the boxwood in question. I was blaming the flora when it should have been the fauna. I’ve learned quite a bit since then and I have Dave’s Garden to thank for most of it. The point to all of this personal interaction with boxwoods is that you need to know the plant, it’s proposed use and the location where you intend to plant it before you buy it. Now let’s look at some others.

Boxwood is an excellent hedge shrub. It takes very well to pruning. Pictured at left is a hedge of Harland boxwood (Buxus harlandii). It grows to 4′ to 6′ in height and is hardy from zone 6a to 8b. In mid-to-late spring there are small cream or light yellow blossoms which are fragrant, but have no petals. Most boxwoods have similar flowers. It will take some shade and prefers slightly acidic soil. Harland is also more resistant to pests than most other boxwoods.

Green Mountain boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana x B. sempervirens ‘Green Mountain’), seen at right, is an upright, pyramidal form, with foliage very much like ‘Green Velvet’ discussed earlier. It can grow from 3′ to 5′ high and is easily maintained in the pyramid shape or can be used in a hedge. Coming out of Sheridan Nursery in Canada, it is known for it’s superior hardiness, zones 4 through 8. It is less likely to yellow in the winter than other boxwoods and will tolerate wind and air pollution.[2]
Another excellent use of boxwood is in privacy screens. A nice example is in the photo at left. American boxwood ‘Green Tower’ (B. sempervirens) is well suited for this task. You can expect it to reach a height of 8′ to 10′ by about 2′ wide. (Note: the plants at the right of the photo were purchased about 6 months before those at the left.) ‘Green Tower’ will also make a lovely specimen planting, perhaps on both sides of an entryway, as it will keep it’s upright, narrow shape without pruning. It is hardy in zones 5a to 9b, does best in full sun and a limestone soil with a PH of 6 or higher.
If you are fond of variegated foliage, you may like American boxwood ‘Variegata’ (B. sempervirens), pictured at right. It is hardy from zone 6a to 8b and can get as tall as 6′, although average would be more like 4′ to 5′. A more compact variegated cultivar is ‘Elegantissima’, at 2′ to 3′ in height.

Here’s an interesting one, Rosemary-leaf boxwood (B. sempervirens ‘Rosmarinifolia’, at far left). If you saw it, you might not recognize it as a boxwood because of the narrow leaf. Other than that, the plant has the same properties as the other boxwoods. It is 4′ to 6′ tall and hardy zones 6 through 8. And at near left, thinking out of the box (forgive me, I had to get that awful pun in here somewhere), is the Giant Box Tree (Buxus balearica). It is only hardy in zones 8a through 9b and will reach the astronomical height of 15′. It takes it’s name from it’s home in the Balearic Islands of Southwestern Spain. The Mediterranean background explains the lack of hardiness.

Boxwood are often used for garden topiary, which is a shrub trimmed into a decorative shape. Some cultivars lend themselves to particular shapes more than others. At Langley Boxwood Nursery in Hampshire, UK, Buxus sempervirens is commonly used for all types of topiary. B. ‘Rotundifolia’ (as seen in the opening thumbnail) is suitable for large ball shapes and standards (a ball at the top of a trunk).[3] The natural shapes of the shrubs are used to suggest the appropriate topiary. ‘Green Tower’ is used for obelisks, cones and related shapes. Topiary are also sheared into spirals, double ball standards and fanciful animals. There are very formal gardens where the boxwood hedges are used for fancy knots, mazes, and other intricate designs. A site you might like to visit if you are interested in boxwood topiary and sculpture is Boxwood Gardens. Also, there is an excellent article at on How to Plant Boxwood Hedges if you should be interested in planting one of your own.

Just a couple of other notes about boxwood in case they have grabbed your interest. Good news… deer will only eat them in a very harsh winter when there is no other food available. All boxwood are shallow rooted. You must take care not to cultivate too closely around them. They should be mulched with 2-3″ of organic mulch to keep the roots cool and prevent them from drying out. The best defense against disease is to keep the plant pruned so that light can reach the inner branches, be sure it is planted in a well-drained area with plenty of organic matter and that it is properly fertilized (too much can be as harmful as too little). For additional information on specific cutivars, check out PlantFiles, the huge plant database here at Dave’s Garden.

This is a Mugo Pines ?

Mugo pines are among the most popular dwarf conifers for growing in both cold and milder climates. This article will introduce you to the variety that exists in this plant and the proper long-time care so your plants will stay compact and healthy.

Most gardeners are familiar with mugo pines. They are certainly among the top-selling pines in the landscape industry. Their overall small size makes them useful for smaller garden, which are becoming the norm these days. They are used as foundation plants next to homes and buildings, as evergreens for the rock garden, as landscape shrubs for slopes and roadside medians and the list goes on. Few conifers are as versatile as mugo pine. Carefree, they only ask for full sun and a well-drained soil. They do not seem fussy about soil pH although if too alkaline, the plants may go a little yellow. They can tolerate windy sites and salt spray, making them ideal for coastal gardens. They also exhibit considerable drought tolerance. Hardiness is not a problem; they can be grown in zones 2 to 8. Generally they do not require extra fertilizing but if your plants seem a bit too slow (slow is the norm however) you can add an evergreen fertilizer in spring just as the buds start to grow.

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) also go by the name mountain pine, Swiss mountain pine and dwarf mountain pine. Some books spell the name ‘mugho’ but botanically, there is no ‘h’ in the name. This pine, as the name suggests, come from high mountains, in this case, the mountains of Europe. These include the Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees, Balkans and Tatras. In the wild, they extend into the subalpine and even alpine zones. Although grown as a dwarf, in their native haunts, they can reach 6 m (20 feet) which is small for a pine but certainly too large for a small city lot. Not to worry, if properly tended to as a young plant you can maintain them as a small-sized conifer for years.

Mugo pines when they have not been pruned on an annual basis.

Pruning should be done on an annual basis to maintain tight, compact plants. Some very dwarf selections require no pruning, but most do benefit. Pruning is simple due to the unique way pines grow. The new growth of pines elongate first (often called a candle) then produce their needles after the new stems have almost reached their full length. To prune any pine (but especially mugo) wait until the new growth has fully extended but the new needles are only about 1/4 to ½ of their mature length. At this stage, cut back the current season’s new growth by half to three-fourths, depending on how severe you want to be. This early pruning will allow the plants to produce a cluster of growth buds at the cut point, resulting in denser growth of branches the next year. If you wait too late to prune, only one bud might form at the cut point, which will not really help thicken up the plant in subsequent years. Never prune back into 2-year-old wood or older, as the plants will not generate any new buds at the cut point.

The main pest of mugo pines are pine sawfly and pine shoot tip moth. Both attack the current seasons growth and can be devastating. Watch plants carefully for the first signs of the larvae and spray the plants with insecticidal soap (on a cloudy day); other appropriate insecticides or even hand remove them. Diplodia tip blight can also occur resulting in the browning and death of the current seasons growth. Prune out the affected parts and burn or dispose of them in the garbage.

‘Alpenglow’ maintains a tight compact, somewhat flat-topped habit even without annual pruning

Most of the ‘standard’ mugo pines sold in the nursery industry are essentially the wild type so annual pruning is a must. The so-called ‘dwarf mugo pine’ in the trade may also be just the standard species but if lucky, the tag will say Pinus mugo ‘Mops’, Pinus mugo var. pumilio or Pinus mugo var. mughus. If so, these selections will stay quite compact even without annual pruning. There are at least 50 named selections of mugo pine which can vary in ultimate size and overall shape. Rarely, some are upright and pyramidal like a typical conifer, albeit, compact in size. ‘Big Tuna’, ‘Aurea Fastigiata’, ‘Gallica’, ‘Dolly’s Choice’ and ‘Rigi’ are such selections. Others are completely prostrate and flat like ‘Corley’s Mat’, ‘Slavinii’ and ‘Spaan’s Pygmy’. With a more rounded habit are ‘Allen’, ‘Kobold’, ‘Mops’, ‘Ophir’ and ‘Sherwood Compact’. Compact, flat-topped forms include ‘Alpenglow’, ‘Flat Top’, ‘Kissen’ and ‘Sherwood Dwarf’. The smallest selections include ‘Humpy’, ‘March’, ‘Mitsch Mini’, ‘Paul’s Dwarf’, ‘Valley Cushion’ and ‘Teeny’. These latter ones are ideal for bonsai or alpine troughs.

Some of the smaller selections include ‘Mitsch Mini’, ‘Sherwood Compact’, ‘Valley Cushion’ and ‘Teeny’.

There are no true blue mugo pines but those with distinct blue tint include ‘Blue Form’, ‘Rock Island Compact’ and ‘Slavinii’. There are several yellow forms. Most of these are greenish in summer, turning yellow in winter and include ‘Aurea’, ‘Aurea Fastigiata’, ‘Ophir’, ‘Variegatum Aureum’ and ‘Winter Gold’. For yellow spring growth that turns green in summer try ‘Gold Spire’. Finally there is ‘Yellowpoint’ whose needles are yellow-tipped all year.

‘Rock Island Compact’ is reasonably blue in colour while ‘Wintergold’ glows through the dreary winter months.

There are certainly many other selections not mentioned that are equally attractive and worth investigating, but these few listed above will be at least a starting point in your adventures with mugo pines!

Tools For Gardening ??

A gardener is only as efficient as his or her tools, and new gardeners may not know what each garden tool is actually meant to be used for in the garden.

It’s easy for someone who’s new to gardening to feel a bit overwhelmed when looking at the different tools and various items available for sale. With some of the tools, it’s hard to determine what exactly they’re meant to do, as they resemble medieval torture devices. Others seem pretty easy to understand, but you may not understand the exact use. Think of the dozens of sizes of gardening tools that resemble scissors. Is just one size good enough to handle all jobs? Let’s learn about some of the most common (and not so common) gardening tools to get you more confident when it comes time to outfit your garden shed.

Aeration Sandals

You may have seen these in the store and wondered their purpose. They look like green cleats that attach to your shoes. The purpose of this is to aerate your lawn, and these can also be used in your garden beds. The spikes help to loosen up any soil that is compacted into a hard mass.

Stirrup Hoe

The stirrup hoe is a strangely shaped garden tool that can look like a stirrup on a saddle. This is a useful tool when it comes to weeding. The stirrup-shaped portion of the tool can be dug into the surface and will cut off weeds when used in a push-and-pull motion.

Triangular Hoe

A triangular hoe offers the perfect way to create furrows in your garden for planting seeds. The triangular-shaped head is the ideal shape for pulling soil up in an excellently shaped trench for planting. Get your seeds in the soil, and the walls of the trench can fold back down on itself.

Manual Lawn Edger

This crescent-shaped tool looks like it may have no purpose, but it’s just right for removing the grass that has grown over your driveway, street, or curb. You push it down where you want to edge the lawn, and it cuts through the overgrown turf in a neat line. This takes time and energy in comparison to modern edgers, but you get a great workout along with a tidy lawn.

Hand Rake

A hand rake is another useful tool that can be helpful with weeds and other tasks. It looks like a miniaturized leaf rake. This tool can be good for weeding, helping to aerate the soil of where you’re planting, and moving around dirt in your garden beds.

Bulb Planter

This tool looks unusual, but the title offers a nice clue. This round-shaped tool with a handle gets pushed into the ground to remove the dirt. You then can plant a bulb in said hole and replace the dirt. The handle is either short or long depending on your preferences. The nicer long handled bulb planters often offer a place to plant your foot to get some power behind pushing it into the ground. As a side note, it can be a good tool for getting a transplant hole started or creating a hole for other purposes.

Shears, Clippers, Pruners, and Nips

You’ve probably noticed a huge array of shears, clippers, pruners, and nips available at your garden store. These typically come in a variety of sizes because each size has its own purpose. You can find shears, clippers, pruners, and nips that work like scissors and some that have more of a pinching motion in them. Smaller sizes are usually used for things that are more delicate, such as harvesting tomatoes or pruning thin-stemmed plants. The largest sizes are typically for dealing with hedges and trees. One size may fit all depending on what you’re growing in your garden, but you could come into some issues. For instance, you don’t want to try to cut something delicate with a larger sized clipper as it could damage the plant, while trying to cut something more sturdy with a smaller clipper will probably just dull the blades rather than accomplishing what you want to accomplish.

Shovels, Spades, and Trowels

Shovels often have round points on them and are perfect for digging holes, trenches, and more in your garden. Spades often have a flat end and work great for removing a top layer of grass, cleaning up edging around driveways, and doing other similar types of work. Trowels are the perfect tool for a gardener. They can be used for weeding, planting, digging, moving soil, and more. Some trowels are marked with a scale that can help when needing to dig to a particular depth, such as when planting seeds. There are both wide and narrow trowels. Narrow trowels do well for bulbs, and the wider ones for digging.

Well, there you have it. Here’s the proper usage of some of those common gardening tools that may have been making you question your new hobby. Your friends and family won’t consider you a budding torture enthusiast when you can tell them the exact use of those aeration sandals or your stirrup hoe. Plus, your garden will flourish when you have the right tools for the job.

Wild Geranium

The flower grew wild, and bloomed from early spring through all of summer. It was a pretty little thing, and most of the time it was a lavender or pink color. On one of my first trips up the side of the mountain to collect it, I threw a fit because Aunt Bett was gathering the root before the pretty little flower showed its first bloom. My fits were long and loud, and they lasted several hours.

My great Aunt Bett told me we were going to gather a root to treat Uncle Sinc’s ailments. Uncle Sinc was not truly my uncle, nor was he in any way related to my family, but my great grandfather had granted him a land lease many years before my time, and it was right at the mouth of our holler. He was a tall, skinny stooped old man when I was young, and seemed to never say much to anybody, and nothing to me. I saw him every day of the year, bent over diggin at something in his garden. He had a pig pen, with no pig in it, and a barn that held no cows or horses. He did have an old mule. It was not his old mule that cleared our garden every spring, because it was as cantankerous as was Uncle Sinc. But that old mule and Uncle Sinc must have had an understanding, because they did plow their garden together.

If I walked along the roadside to get to Aunt Bett’s house, I had to pass Uncle Sinc’s house, his garden, and his old mule. The old mule took a liking to me, because he would see me coming and meet me at the corner of the fence around the barn. It also was the fence that separated Uncle Sinc’s back lot from Aunt Bett’s back garden. I usually hopped the creek and walked down the creekside to go to Aunt Bett’s just so I wouldn’t have to pass that cantankerous old mule and grouchy Uncle Sinc. On this particular morning, I walked along the roadside, and sure enough, that old mule came out to meet me. He stuck his head over that fence, took one look at me and sneezed all his innards all over my new overalls.

We had gone all the way to Wise, Virginia to get those overalls, since there were no stores around that sold overalls small enough for me. My mother had the bright idea that overalls would keep me covered enough that no bugs and no briars would be able to get in my britches. I was happy to get them because they had more pockets than jeans. I liked to collect things in my pockets. I stomped into Aunt Bett’s house grumbling like an old hounddog who had been roused from slumber by an annoying horsefly.

Aunt Bett cleaned me up, wiped the mess off my overalls and told me we needed the root of the wild geranium, so she could make an infusion for Uncle Sinc’s sore throat. I told her that maybe we could give some to his mule, too, since he seemed to have a problem with his nose and throat as well.

Geranium maculatum was also known as wild geranium, cranesbill geranium and alum root. It had been used by the old ones, Aunt Bett said, to cure a number of things. We were making our way up the side of the mountain that was just beside her garden, and we didn’t have far to go. From that view I could see Uncle Sinc and the snotty old mule working a plow beside his last row of beans. He was going to plant a late crop.

“You reckon that alum root will cure Uncle Sinc? What’s he need to be cured of, anyhow, except his grouchy self?” Aunt Bett gave me one of her looks that said without a word: “You have an attitude problem, child.” It seems that his wife had died from birthing seven babies, and only three of them had lived to see the light of day. Uncle Sinc had raised all three right there on his little plot of land. His children had grown up and moved on, and Uncle Sinc was left with no one to care for except that old mule. Aunt Bett said that old mule had been there right near as long as Uncle Sinc, so they both had a right to be as onery as they wanted to be. I took that to heart and went on my way to gather alum root.

The wild geranium blooms from April till late July, and the ones in the mountains were a lovely lavender blue color, though we also saw some that were pink, as well as a few that were white. Aunt Bett told me we needed the roots of the plants that had not bloomed yet. I was ready to throw one of my fits, the one I used when I thought things should be done a bit differently. I did not want to kill a plant that had not bloomed. She stopped that fit cold when she told me that the Blackfoot Indians used the root to stop bleeding and also to treat other things, but Uncle Sinc needed it for his sore throat. She was going to make an infusion that he could gargle. I asked her if the old mule could gargle it, too, but she gave me that look again.

As was her usual practice, Aunt Bett only gathered a few of the plants that grew in the sunshine, and left the others to continue growing and blooming all summer long. Before we started back down the mountain, she showed me the alum root that bloomed white, and said that we would also dig up three or four of them to take back because she wanted me to plant them alongside her back door and around her back windows. Well, of course, I asked her why she would do that, since she hardly had any flowers at all around her house. She told me that it was said that snakes will not go where white geraniums grow, and if it grew near windows the bees and the flies would not enter a house. That was good enough for me, I was just happy that the white geranium was getting away with its life, and would live and bloom.

We got home and Aunt Bett set to making an infusion from the roots she carried with her, and I set to planting the whole plant with the white blossoms near her back door and window. The morning sun hit the back of the house after it finally rose above the mountain behind us, so I knew it would grow there in her rich soil. Then Aunt Bett asked me if I would go with her to take the infusion tea to Uncle Sinc. Well. I wasn’t overly fond of the old man, but I didn’t have any reason for that opinion except for the fact that he seemed to ignore me. I decided I would let him know that something bad was wrong with his old mule.

We got to Uncle Sinc’s house, and as was the way in the mountains we went to the back door. We climbed the rough hewn steps up to the porch and a long sleek hound dog rose to meet us, drooping tail wagging, and soulful eyes looking us over. Well, looking me over. I had never been that close to Uncle Sinc’s house before. Uncle Sinc was waiting just inside the door: “Well Betty Ann, you got that tea you promised me,” he asked in a whispery voice. Aunt Bett said she sure did have it and it was still hot from the boiling. Uncle Sinc took a sip, then another, just like it was nectar from the sweetest honeysuckle. “Ahhhhhh, that’s good stuff, Betty Ann, I can feel a cure already.”

“Uncle Sinc,” I asked, “Whyn’t you ever talk to me? Your old mule sneezed all over my new overhauls, and Aunt Bett had to clean me up good before I could go pick this alum root for you. I don’t care ’bout that much, but I was wonderin’ why you don’t never talk to me when I walk right past you out by the barn?”

“Well, chile, it’s like this. I ain’t got much to say till the time’s rite, and looks to me like neither do you. I reckon th’ time’s ’bout rite now, so you go ahead and talk all you want to.”

“Uncle Sinc,” I said, “Can I give some of your tea to your old mule, I think he needs it to cure his sneezes, and then he wouldn’t be sneezin’ his innards out all over me and my new overhauls.”

“Let’s go see,” Uncle Sinc said. And we did. And you know what? That mule drunk that tea down like there was no tomorrow, and when I reached up and scritched his ear, he smiled till all his big yellow teeth showed.

I learned more about quiet old men and grouchy old mules than I learned about wild geraniums that day. I guess that is important, too.

Information from this story comes from my Aunt Bett’s writings.