Sharing Your Garden’s Bounty

by Janice F. Booth

NOV. 05, 2021

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“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

—Robert Persig, American author 

Perhaps you still have a dog-eared copy of this intriguing book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, laying around somewhere. But I digress. Persig’s wise advice seems to apply not only to the world’s great and terrible challenges, but to our own lives, and even to our own gardens. I suggest we might improve our tiny patch of this world, this earth, by sharing our garden’s beauty and bounty with others, particularly with the season of giving fast approaching.

With autumn rolling toward winter, you might be thinking, “My tomatoes are finished; I’ve admired my last mum. What does she want me to share from my garden now?” Well, don’t be dismayed. I propose we look over our gardens, newly tidied and bedded down for the approaching winter, as a source of thoughtful and personal gifts. Which plants and shrubs might we share now with friends and neighbors? For example, those irises, now sporting a crewcut where slender leaves once swayed, might be lifted gently from the ground so their plump, sweet smelling Orris roots are exposed. (Did you know these roots are dried and used in the production of perfume and mouthwash? I didn’t.) But again, I digress. With a clean, sharp garden knife, you can cut through the fat root, dividing it into several plants, each with a leaf-stub or two. (You’ll be treated to the delicate, violet fragrance as you divide the root.) Replant your own iris in your garden. Then, in simple, clean, clay pots or colorfully decorated containers, settle the new plants in planting-soil. Be sure to thoroughly water these new plants and set them in a sunny spot out of the way of frost. In a few weeks you’ll see the new plants begin to stir. Each of these little dears can be given as a gift to neighbor or friend. You might design a small card that names the plant and how to care for it, include a tiny picture of a blooming iris. Expand

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This process is asexual propagation, the parent plant is divided to produce new plants. In addition to dividing root balls, asexual propagation may involve cuttings from plant stems or even leaves. Last spring you may have cut branches of forsythia or pussy willow, immersed the branches in a vase of water, and been delighted when a delicate tracery of roots emerged from the cuttings. Well, you can do that now too. Take a sharp pair of shears into the garden and snip some dormant forsythia branches—those lovely, arching specimens. Set the branches in a vase or jar of water, and when roots appear, plant them as a cluster in a deep, narrow pot, watering lavishly at first. In the case of forsythia, willow, and similar shrubs, the note that accompanies the gift might advise the recipient to plant the young bush in the ground when spring arrives. 

Succulents make pretty, shallow-dish gift arrangements, and they are easy to propagate from leaves. Think about aloe (such medicinal value for cuts and burns) and jade. They would complement one another in a miniature potted-garden. Again, using a sharp knife, make a clean cut of a healthy leaf or stem. Set the new plant aside without water or soil; trust me, roots will begin to appear. Once the roots emerge, arrange the aloe, jade, and cactus in a shallow dish, and place the plant-nursery in a sunny window. Do not overwater these fledglings. If you have chicks-and-hens in your rock garden, you can dig up the larger specimens and carefully divide their roots. Soon you’ll have 5 or 6 little chicks to share; arrange them with the aloe and jade. You might add some tiny pebbles among the plants for the rock-garden effect. Be sure to replant your mother hen so she can produce more chicks in your spring garden. 

The alternative form of propagation is sexual propagation using seeds and spores. (I confess I have a poor track record when it comes to growing plants from seeds. I suspect I’m too impatient.) You can order seed packets for some quick-growing annuals or vegetables, then set the seeds to sprout. Think about marigolds or coleus seeds—or put them together. Their colors would be lovely in contrast. A castor bean vine might make a pretty gift too, and I’m told they’re almost fool-proof to grow from seed. Salad greens make a thoughtful gift for chefs and families. 

Growing lettuce, sprouts, parsley, broccoli, and kale from seeds is easy, and their colors and leafy heads are attractive on a winter counter or windowsill. A cheery gift that might include a recipe for a new salad dressing, or even a jar of homemade dressing to accompany the greens. Expand

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Here are a few helpful hints for your gift-giving project, ways to make the plant-growing process easier:

  • If you’re starting with seeds, soak them in a bowl of lukewarm water. They’ll expand to twice their original size. When they do, plant them in damp soil.
  • Dip cuttings in willow water; it can be purchased in a nursery or garden store. The willow is a fast-growing shrub because it contains 4 natural hormones that stimulate growth. Giving your new cuttings a bit of willow water provides them with those same growth hormones in tiny quantities. (You can even produce your own willow water if you have willows in your garden. The process involves boiling and refrigeration. Check out the recipe at gardentherapy.ca)
  • Set a clear, plastic bag over your new plants in their pots. Keep them bagged until the plants really begin to flourish. The bag will retain moisture and warmth. 
  • Before cutting roots or branches for propagation, thoroughly clean the garden knife or shears with rubbing alcohol to remove any bacteria that might infect the fragile plants. 

Start now preparing thoughtful gifts from your hands and your garden. Involve the young people in your household; they can make gifts for their teachers, relatives, coaches, and, in some cases, even friends. 

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8 Ways to Perk Up Your Fall Garden

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

OCT. 02, 2021

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Autumn is well underway here in Maryland, and there’s a special sweetness to this post-COVID pandemic fall. Kids are back in school or back in their college dorms. We’re settling into our work routines, modified though they may be post-pandemic. When we return home, to our familiar haven, our house or apartment and garden, we’re enjoying the benefits of all the little projects we accomplished during quarantine—those new, small appliances for the kitchen, that repainted den or office, and the dear garden—polished or even expanded from past seasons. Feels good, doesn’t it, to look over your accomplishments? 

Now, however, fall is upon us, and our long summer on-the-go has ended. Time to plump up those couch pillows, have the windows cleaned, and tidy up the garden for the last lovely months of the year. Here are some suggestions for perking up our tired gardens and patios, preparing them for fall parties and quiet sunset drinks or dinners on the deck. 

1

Start with the obvious. If you have a gardening service, ask them to remove the dead and dying annuals from the flowerbeds and pots. Remind them not to pull out the zinnias and chrysanthemums; they’re in their glory now. Dead-heading any old blooms could help these plants continue to bloom during the next month-or-so. (If you’re doing these tasks yourself, no worries. They’re all easy tasks; take a large basket or plastic pail into the garden and just pluck out dead blossoms and brown, withered plants. 

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While they or you are clearing out the tired plants, trim back some of those spring-blooming bushes that have grown a bit leggy over the long, summer, growing season. Once trimmed back, your forsythias, flowering quince, and lilac bushes will still have time to grow and prepare to send out new growth and welcome blooms once spring arrives. 

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Another great way to freshen the garden area is with some strategically placed new plants. In the garden or on the patio, plant some pretty pansies and ornamental kale—with any luck, they’ll bloom all winter. Snapdragons and ornamental peppers will also brighten up the garden. You needn’t bother putting them in the ground. Just snuggle the plastic pots down among the foliage of other plants or drop the plants into always-appropriate clay pots. Fill several pots with nasturtium, perfect with their orange and gold blossoms and pretty, round leaves. To add a touch of drama, dig out some trailers of ivy or periwinkle with a little root ball and plant them around the outer edge of the flowerpots so they cascade over the sides.

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Take a look at the borders of your flowerbeds and walkways. Has grass started to wheedle its way between the stepping-stones or into the flowerbeds? Pulling out the stray clumps of grass and weeds will add a crisper look to the walkway. You may want to go a bit further with the flowerbeds and ask the gardener to edge the flowerbeds again, as was done in the spring. Expand

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And while you’re wandering along the garden paths, take a look at your fencing. Are there slats that need replacing? Would a coat of paint now help preserve the fence and improve its appearance? Is now the time to replace that chain link fence at the back of the yard with something more attractive, like pickets, bamboo, or wrought iron? 

6

In preparation for the coming shorter days and longer nights, a little trick with lighting might be fun. Maybe you have some leftover rope lights from your summer parties. Or, pick up some tiny, white lights from the hardware store. Drape some over the bushes, wind one or two strands around tree trunks, or hang them around the patio. If they’re LED, you can just leave them on throughout the winter, or connect them to one main, heavy-duty extension cord which you can easily unplug as you walk out to get the paper in the morning and plug in as you return home in the evening.

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When you get the urge to do some digging, buy some bulbs—you’ll find them everywhere this time of year. Maybe you want to try some exotic tulips or old-fashioned gladiolas. Get some of each, plus the old standbys, daffodils and crocuses. For the most part, just stick them in the ground anywhere the soil is not too packed down, or be creative, and plant them in clumps for lovely bursts of blooms in springtime. 

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Finally, think about the watering system you’ve used all summer. If you simply used a watering can and hose, think about preparing to coil and store that hose. If you setup timers and sprinklers, you’ll want to plan for removing them and storing them for spring re-installation. Or, this might be the year you call in the landscaper to discuss installing an irrigation system in the garden, a system that will use water efficiently. Now is a good time to look into the project. The advice may be to wait until spring to dig up the ground and install the drip hoses or sprinkler system. But, they may suggest installing now, while they can see the design of your garden and the water demands of various plants and trees. In any case, it’s a good time to get the project on-the-books.

There will be lots of time yet for putting the garden to bed, and facing the chores of preparing for winter. But, not yet. There’s still time to sit on the deck or lounge in the hammock and enjoy your outdoor spaces. Doing a few little chores to spruce up those spaces will simply enhance your pleasure in autumn’s particular beauty. 

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

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Four Reasons It’s Fun to Keep a Garden Journal

SEP. 11, 2021

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Have you, like me, wandered through your garden and paused over a lovely plant, blooming courageously in the summer sun, and wondered what it could possibly be? It has a name; it’s vaguely familiar, but what is it called? Have you, like me, visited a friend’s garden, admired his glorious flora, jotted down names on the back of your grocery receipt, gotten home, and found you’d lost that wrinkled paper? Have you leafed through a magazine or nursery catalog and come upon the absolutely perfect flower or shrub for that problem corner of the garden—then misplaced the magazine or lost the catalogue page you’d torn out? I have! 

Well, dear Reader, I have a solution to these perennial problems—keep a Garden Journal. They can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. There’s no need to feel stressed about writing in it with any specific consistency. You can use it when and where you choose, and it will last as long as the pages hold out—then you can begin Volume Two. Perhaps you’ve seen copies of the Victorian Ladies’ Garden Journals. They are charming collections of poems about gardens and weather (some copied and some original to the lady) and sweet watercolors of the flowers, birds, and fountains. They sometimes hold dried specimens—pressed flowers and leaves. Friends’ comments and quotes. They’re quite original and fun. 

You may find it useful and satisfying to begin your own journal about gardening in general and your own garden specifically. You have very little to do to get started. Select a type of blank book that has sturdy covers and fairly roomy pages. You’ll want paper that is not too flimsy—you can expect the odd glob of mud and rain drop on the pages. You could design some type of cover that pleases you—a collage of pictures from your garden or a simple label with your journal’s title and date.

There are lots of uses to which you can put this sturdy book. You needn’t limit your journal to one focus only. Think of the journal as your companion in gardening. Whether you do most of the work yourself or supervise the gardener or gardeners, there are lots of details and even broad concepts to keep track of. Let me talk about just some of them.

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1. Practical Pages

Some portions of your Garden Journal may be committed to such useful information as:

• The season’s budget, with cost of labor, weed treatments and fertilizers, prices for plants and seeds, new and replacement equipment.

• Glue an envelope onto one page and slip your bills and receipts inside. No need to calculate them. You’ll know where to find them, should the need arise to look back over past charges or disputed invoices.

• A “Wish List” of items you want for your garden: art work, a fountain, fencing are some examples. If you know the prices, you can jot them down for future reference.

• Glue an envelope on another page to hold business cards and business addresses you’ve cut out of the paper or a magazine ad. 

• Keep a list of pest infestations and remedies that work! Very handy. Even if you haven’t been visited by those pesky aphids, write down the remedy. You may need it at some time in the future. Expand

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2. History

See your Garden Journal as a record of what has transpired in your garden:

• Take photos of your garden in all its glory during each of the seasons. Glue them onto pages and add a brief caption with date and any important information you might think useful, for example “This picture was taken before we lost the big Sycamore near the back of the garden.” 

• Draw or take pictures of some of your favorite blooms and plants. I’ve found it helpful to do a series of pictures of those special plants—when the plant first emerges from the earth, when it’s beginning to grow among its neighboring plants, when it’s in its full glory, and as it fades back into the greenery surrounding it. This “time lapse” helps me keep track of those special plants so my gardener or my own over-zealous gardening doesn’t pull out these special favorites as weeds or nuisances!  

• Keep a few pages each year as a weather journal. No need to get too carried away, but keep a few notes on significant storms, when the first frost comes, and when the last frost is past. Note particular dry spells and rainy seasons. This may sound rather dull, but over time you may be interested in looking back on the terrible wind storm” or (I hate to write it) the hurricane. 

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3. Creative Pages

Your Garden Journal can be a repository for ideas, those flashes of creativity when you think of all the things you’d like to try in your own garden.

• When you’ve toured a garden—your friend’s or a public garden, you have probably taken a few photos, maybe you’ve sketched a particularly lovely area. Why not print out those photos and glue them into your Garden Journal? Add a caption with date and whatever you can remember about the garden; its name (if it has one), location, time of year. You might simply cut out pictures from the garden’s brochure or buy a few postcards in their gift shop and tape them into your journal. We’re so fortunate to have the superb U.S. Botanical Gardens and the Hillwood Gardens in the District of Columbia as well as the London Town and Paca and other public gardens right here in Annapolis. 

• Flipping through those garden catalogues, tear out the pages with those glorious images of waterfalls and fountains, ponds and patios. Glue them into your Garden Journal for inspiration. 

• If you’re a collector, you might want to add blooms from your own flowers and press them for your Garden Journal. Pressed flowers and leaves are beautiful and sweet reminders of the joys your garden has given you. 

• There might be a place in your Garden Journal for poems and quotes—yours, those of friends, and those you come upon in your reading. Expand

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4. Charting Pages 

There is real value in devising charts or maps of your garden.

• Start with photos of each of your flowerbeds or areas of your lawn and garden. If there might be confusion, note the season, time of day, and location for each photo.

• From those photos you have a couple options. One, you can glue a photo per page and then write a caption in identifying the trees, shrubs, and plants that are visible. Preferably, include the age of the flora if you know. These will be intriguing records for future planning. It will be fun too to see over time how the trees, shrubs, and flowers grow and mature. 

• Another use for these photos is to develop a chart or map, perhaps using graph paper, for a bird’s eye view of the area in each photo. Put the photo and the map adjacent in your Garden Journal. We’ve all seen those simple, tidy mapped flower beds in catalogues and public gardens’ brochures. Try creating your own. (I must confess, my attempts look more like wild bird nests than maps of flower beds, but I’m sure you can do a better job.) 

• Another useful purpose for this section may be the recording of applications of fertilizers and natural herbicides. Keep track of applications on your maps. Over time you’ll see what is helping and what is doing nothing or hindering your garden. 

It’s likely you’ll think of other sections to add to your Garden Journal. That’s great—maybe a section for photos of parties and picnics in your garden. There is no way you can get this “wrong;” it’s your Garden Journal and your pleasure and interest. One day, you may happen upon one of your early volumes and smile as you see the changes your garden has undergone. You might even pass along your Garden Journal as a record of your house when you move, helping to protect the lovely plants you’ve nurtured and loved. Such a gift to new owners might be a real boon. Have fun. 

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

SEP. 11, 2021

MIDNIGHT

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My first published poems, part of a collection of poems by 6 poets and friends. Perhaps you’ll want to read some of our work.

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Giving us a breath of fresh air…

Where Would We Be Without the Trees?

BY JANICE F. BOOTH

AUG. 06, 2021

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If you’re lucky, you may be reading this as you sit beneath a leafy oak or maple tree, sun filtering through the leaves, a gentle breeze moving the summer air. You’re breathing a bit easier thanks to that tree overhead. In fact, that tree overhead produces approximately 260 pounds of oxygen each year. You need, on average, the annual output of 3 mature trees working to absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen to meet your body’s requirements. How many trees can you see from your vantage point right now? Perhaps a nod and a smile their way is in order? 

Better yet, why not plant a tree or two in your garden and make your own contribution to carbon sequestration and oxygenation? In addition to these two important accomplishments by our leafy neighbors, there are lots of benefits to having trees as part of your landscape design. Trees are beautiful—as if I needed to tell you. If you’re reading this article, you already know the beauty that nature provides. And those fluttering leaves, the songbirds that nest in the trees, and the whispering breezes that move through the branches help to lower your stress levels. Trees, whether ornamental, fruit, or shade, increase the value of your property. When they mature, they help cool your house in the summer and protect your home from winter winds, thus lowering heating and cooling costs. The network of roots that feed a tree provide an important network of protection for the soil, encouraging aeration while providing a soil safety net to keep heavy rains from washing away the precious topsoil. Oh, and one more thing; trees are safe havens for nesting birds and squirrels, with ready supplies of nuts and berries to feed your garden’s feathered and furry friends. 

The Big Commitment

Which brings us to the big question: Is there space in your garden for one – or one more tree? If the answer is “yes,” now’s the time to start planning. Fall—October to early November in our region—is the best time to plant trees. There’s usually a moderate amount of rainfall, temperatures are mild, and the sapling you plant is ready to go dormant until spring, lessening the chance it will be shocked by the move/planting. 

Which Type is for You?

Choosing a variety of tree to plant may depend on several factors. The most common choices are based on: 

Character:

  • Purpose – privacy, decoration, encouragement of wildlife, shade
  • Shade tree – deciduous (sheds its leaves in autumn)
  • Ornamental tree – often conifers (evergreens) but also some with exotic growth or leaf patterns
  • Fruit tree – apple, peach, and pear are common (Caution: fruit trees require year-long attention if you want to enjoy their fruits in season.)
  • Size – large, slender, dwarf

Aesthetics

  • the colors of the tree’s display during spring and/or fall
  • the shape of the leaves or the shape of the tree’s crown (the form the tree grows into naturally, often a semi-circle or cone shape
  • fragrance, scented blossoms or even fragrant leaves
  • bark and trunk appearance, rough and variegated or smooth and uniform 

Growth:

  • Fast or slow growing 
  • Well-mannered, requiring little or no pruning vs. distinctive and sometimes surprising growth of trunk and/or branches
  • Shallow or deep root system

Placement requirements:

  • Proximity to buildings; placing the tree far enough from the structure to avoid roots or branches interfering with the house or garage’s structure
  • Clay or loamy soil
  • Damp or dry conditions
  • Sunny or shady location
  • Crowded or vacant location; amidst other trees, shrubs, and plants or situated alone

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All of these issues demand research or an arborist’s knowledge. If you’re ready to commit to adopting a new resident to your yard or garden, this may be the time to consult your gardener, garden designer, or arborist. After considering the issues I introduce here, you can come to the conversation with your landscape specialist armed with some ideas and questions that may help you choose a tree or trees that will be happy in your location and will make you happy with their inclusion in your landscaping.

We’re fortunate to live in a fairly moderate climate, and so we have lots of varieties of trees that will flourish here and provide just the qualities you’re looking for. You probably have your favorites among the grand dames of our urban and rural forests and gardens. I’d like to just tell you about a few less-familiar varieties that you may want to look into. It’s fun to pique your fellow-gardeners’ curiosity as your tree begins to develop its unique characteristics.

Amur Maple: Like its big sisters the Silver and Sugar Maples, this small tree offers stunning color in the autumn. It’s relatively pest resistant. Its one drawback is that it easily propagates, so keep your eye out for unwanted “volunteers” and pluck them out. (Perhaps replant the volunteers in pots to grow until they’re big enough to give as gifts to friends.)

Paper-Bark Maple: Mid-size and reasonably fast growing, what makes this maple a treasure is its beautiful, papery bark. As the tree grows, the lighter color outer-bark begins to peel back revealing the deep cinnamon to brown bark beneath. Add to this year-round interest, she’ll display her leaves in deep reds in the autumn. 

Weeping Flowering Pear: This beauty has slender, willowy leaves, silver in color. The branches of this fairly small tree droop gracefully. In the spring there’ll be a lovely display of white blossoms. If pollinated, she’ll produce small pears that are tasty only to squirrels, foxes, and other furry guests. One final reason to add a Weeping Flowering Pear to your garden is that the tree is an endangered species, having originated as a cultivar in Germany in the mid-19th century, it’s no longer commonplace. 

Leyland Cypress: This slender evergreen makes a subtle privacy barrier. It’s fast-growing and undemanding. In three years it can grow 50 to 60 feet tall. (No need to avert your eyes from the back of your neighbor’s garage any longer.)

Your arborist or garden consultant also will have lots of lovely suggestions, I’m sure. My goal here is to plant the seed, or seedling, and suggest one way we can each make a tiny improvement in our environment. If every garden had a tree, think how many tons of oxygen we’d add to the atmosphere. It seems such a simple way to help Mother Earth.

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