Archive for November, 2011

Mature Bladdernut seed pod

The American bladdernut, Staphylea trifolia, is a large, suckering, deciduous shrub or small tree 8 -15 feet tall and native to the Eastern United States.  Bladdernut grows in the wooded bottomlands along the River Raisin and can tolerate a wide range of soils and conditions from dry to wet and part shade to full shade.  It prefers moist soil, tolerates occasional floods but can also tolerate drought.  I have one shrub planted in a dry, sandy, shaded area and another in clay soil which   floods and both perform well in these extreme conditions.  The blooms in April and May are clusters of small cream bell shaped flowers.   The trifoliate leaves are dark green and the bark is greenish brown with white cracks.  I find the inflated, three chamber bladder like fruit very interesting.   The papery capsules, normally 1-2” long, change from green to cream and mature to brown.  In the autumn the seeds within the bladder will rattle in wind. The American Bladdernut is an interesting shrub for the landscape especially in native plant gardens, shade gardens or in woodland areas.

American Bladdernut bark


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FotoFriday had glitches this week! This is the week for me to lose all battles with technology! My brand new computer is in the shop for warranty work and I couldn’t extract the photos I’d had saved for FotoFriday. I had several contributors this week, so I apologize profusely and ask if you could possibly resend them. They were all really nice photos and I want to make sure we feature them. Fortunately, Jennie sent these after my computer went down so I was able to post them from my husband’s computer. Jennie’s photos have a thanksgiving theme, in a personal way.

I am thankful my daughter is sharing gardening with her 3 kids and that they get excited over big carrots. Dug this late in the fall, they will be sweet.

My daughter-in-law grows herbs and a few edibles around her patio but the girls are close enough to visit my garden very often and loved taking this melon home in their wheelbarrow. Part of the fun was letting it fall out and loading it up again.

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Jennie sent us some great information about African “keyhole”gardening and bag gardening. Whenever I learn how people in other cultures garden in ways that conserve and sustain scarce resources, I’m always impressed (and sometimes a little guilty feeling for our society’s inefficient use of precious resources). Jennie writes:

What’s a Keyhole garden?

My brother recently sent me links to YouTube videos of sack and keyhole gardens promoted in Africa as alternative raised beds for a household’s vegetable growing. I was very interested and am thinking how and whether to adapt the ideas to try here.

Keyhole gardens are a different type of raised bed intended to be more or less permanent and sustainable through an ongoing composting in a central “basket”.  In fact, the kitchen wastes  added to the center may provide all the fertilizer and irrigation necessary for successful vegetables in the bed, which is a convenient height about 2 feet above ground level. There are many variations, but in general stone or bricks are recommended for the outer wall, mortared or not, while strong wire mesh or woven saplings and branches make the inner basket tube. Between these walls, the 2-3 ft wide planting area is filled at first with a good deal of fibrous material such as corn husks, coir, straw, and cardboard along with soil and/or compost, manure, potting media,  mixed up or possibly layered as in a lasagna garden, finishing with several inches of good growing medium on the top layer. Kitchen scraps are to be dumped upon additional fibrous material in the central basket.

In dry climates or seasons, the water used to wash vegetables and dishes, etc., will be dumped into the center along with scraps and peelings. Since kitchen scraps are around 90% water, which is released during decay, this may provide sufficient moisture for the whole garden. Crops should grow as vigorously as on a typical compost heap, and the very active soil ecosystem may limit disease-causing fungi, as will the lack of surface or overhead irrigation. Crop rotation may still be needed to optimize nutrient use and plant health.

Such a bed can certainly be an attractive landscape feature like a large wishing well, but in the poverty of Africa where this instructional video was made, the efficiency of recycling water and organic material to raise high-quality food  in a small space is certainly the primary advantage.

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Likewise, their take on sack gardening is different from ours in using tall sacks that would hold a person or two,  and constructing a central column of rocks to allow water penetration into the whole container.  Then they insert plants into the sides of the sack, gaining greater growing surface area than most containers while limiting water evaporation.  Clearly less permanent and less attractive, these provide another low cost method of using compost and raised beds to maximize production and minimize losses to weeds and soil compaction. Such “kitchen gardens” do not replace agriculture but supplement a single household food supply with high quality ingredients that are consumed fresh, at their nutritional peak, with very little loss in harvest, storage or shipping.  

Before writing these ideas off as suitable for hot dry places, do a search and see how many keyhole gardens are in the UK and in our northwest!

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Indoor Gardening

I’ve finally stopped denying that gardening season is over. As I hunker down for the long winter ahead, I guiltily look at all my neglected houseplants and plan some indoor projects such as repotting my potbound plants and starting a few herbs from leftover seeds. Also, the holidays are upon us and some holiday projects using winter greens and berries are limited only by one’s imagination. I use scans of 3 dimensional plant material such as holly and juniper berries, and pinecones to make Christmas cards. What projects are you planning this season? We’d love to hear about what you are doing to keep your thumbs green and a little grit under you nails.

Holly, scanned on an open flat-bed scanner

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We didn’t have any FF submissions this week, so I’m posting one of a farm field I shot recently. Not specifically a MG reference, but more a love of growing things and harvesting what we grow here in Monroe County.

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Here is the link to download a registration form or register on line for the upcoming Fall 2011 Curious Gardener Series programs at MSU (Nov 18 and Nov 21) which were referenced in the November newsletter.  I apologize for not including this in the newsletter.


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FotoFriday 11/11/11

What a difference a week makes! This week we have lovely autumn floral submissions and – SNOW! We’ll start with the most colorful submission since I just don’t have the strength to start out with the one that reminds me of the long, quiet period we have ahead. First – Frank submitted a colorful companion planting collection from the IHM community gardens, sent to me just after last week’s FF deadline:

IHM Fall Grouping

Second, Jennie submitted an alternate-leaved pink dogwood, backlit by diffuse natural light. She writes:

Mark Derrick gave me an alternate-leaved dogwood seedling just a few years ago and I planted it too close to my kitchen, but I love seeing it out the bay window.  I knew I wanted one of these native forest understory trees when I read about it in the book Weeds of the Woods.  It has thrived in the partly shaded spot and rapidly outgrew the spread I expected, so the first tier of branches had to go. I used the graceful prunings as trellis for sweet peas last year. Then the Dundee tornado winds took the top out of the tree, too, so it has looked like a large patio umbrella, finally establishing a new leader late this summer.

Besides the dappled, moving light it admits to my kitchen, I like to look down on it from the upstairs window.  There the upswept twigs with whorls of parallel-veined leaves resemble a sea of miniature hosta plants.  I enjoyed the 3-inch circles of lace flowers dotted along the top side of each major branch and the pinkish haze of their stems when the white petals had fallen.  I let my passion vine climb up and bloom on top of the umbrella in the heat of summer, scenting the dooryard but most of the flowers invisible except from that upper window.

All fall, the leaves have increasingly hung down flat like paper decorations and have passed through several attractively subtle shades of green tinged with red, then red-orange and now very nearly pink against the smooth dark reddish bark.

Alternate – Leaved Dogwood

Last, Linda submitted a downright snowy scene from her yard. I personally have been in denial about the time of year and this photo was a reality-check for me!  Linda helps us remember that gardens do hold winter interest. We just need to be observant and appreciative of more subtle beauty including repeating lines, forms, and textures.

Subtle Beauty

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Where has the year gone?  In less than  a week we will be having our annual recognition banquet, which unfortunately I am unable to attend.  Therefore, I would like to make a few recognitions  of my own, based on what I have observed this year.  Lot of people have worked hard, and these are my personal picks.  I hope I am not embarrassing  or offending anyone – but the following members I am sure you will agree are particularly deserving of our recognition and thanks for their efforts and valuable contribution to the club.

  1. Naida Albin – The Work & Learn Crew:   Her tireless efforts along with my regulars, the Milan gang and Mark Havekost, are the reason we were able to restore the gardens to what they should be.  A consumate gardener and workaholic, she tends at least three other local gardens that I know of in addition to her own, and is very supportive of any MG activity.   A very modest person, I do not want to embarrass her further by listing her numerous other achievements.
  2. Sue Ryan – Blogmeister:   The reason that you are able to read this – is because of the efforts of this one person in setting up and maintaining our blog, from conception to where it is now! Sue’s talents as a photographer and an uplifting script writer have given our fledgling venture a polished, professional look – and a much needed voice for the association.  Did I mention this is all done after 10 hour work shifts and numerous stints weeding the office  garden?  She has put in hundreds of hours into making this happen because she is totally committed to making this blog a success, and something we can all be proud of.
  3. Linda Welch – Most Involved MG:  It is no exaggeration to say Linda is everywhere there is activity in the club.  From single-handedly renovating our previous projects in the Veterans Park, planting the new sundial beds, weeding the office garden and being a cheerful booster for the club.  Most of you know her from her garden design presentations and numerous photographs of her lovely garden and plant choices in the blog –  where she is a founding editor and frequent contributor.
  4. Sharon Diefenthaler – Best Community Outreach:   Being a MG is all about community outreach.  Sharon is fortunate in that she has been able to incorporate this mission statement into her ISD program at Matthes’ greenhouse.  All of her students graduate as Junior MGs and the work ethic and skills they learn as being part of her program, will prepare them for being productive citizens.  She is an active participant in the IHM community gardens,  Bedford Library gardens and with her students, in Mercy Memorial greenhouse and gardens.
  5. Carol Koesel – Best Project:   Thanks to Carol, we finally were able to have a raised bed veggie garden as a teaching tool in our demo garden.  This feature was long overdue!  Skillfully using a 3 x 4 seed bag,  Carol planted a mini- garden that yielded a surprising array and quantity of vegetables, all of which were grown in our own compost…Mel Bartholomew would definitely approve!  I certainly appreciate her garden knowledge and deft touch in maintaining the Memorial Garden, which she helped design and install.
  6. Lenore Wood – Most Under-appreciated Worker:   Lenore is the Rodney Dangerfield of the association.  She is the one who toils away maintaining the beds at Fairview Hospital, her church and when time permits, she comes and weeds our garden. Lenore works alone and is publicity shy, so many of you have little idea what this woman accomplishes.  Her dedication to community outreach is something the association should acknowledge and embrace.
  7. Karen Hehl – Best Photography Submission:  A lot of you know Karen’s handiwork from past garden tours.  Come fall, she is a regular feature around the office garden weeding and clipping. What I didn’t realize was just how accomplished a photographer she really is.  Her photos of the pepper arrangement are of professional quality and would not be out of place in the pages of Gourmet magazine.  Both Sue and I are unanimous in this choice of her outstanding FotoFriday submission.
  8. Sandy O’Connell – Most  Informative Newsletter Article:   Most of you know this garrulous upstate New Yorker as a hardworking, weed-pulling terror with her designer weeding hoe.  But she is also an accomplished writer as is shown in her past newsletter article on her visit to the home of pioneering naturalist, Gene Stratton-Porter.  Truly an  outstanding article with superb photographs that help make our newsletter one of the best in the region.
  9. Georgeann Brown – Best Food Presenter:   This is just another facet of the multi-talented persona of our longest serving MG.  In addition to being Jennie’s first graduate, GB has brought a wealth of experience and gardening knowledge to this club over the years, as well as holding every office and one of the originators of the W & L program!  Her interest in herbs was recently coupled with her passion for food in a most interesting and lively presentation on Sweet and Savory Herb cooking, that was extremely well received.
  10. Mary Ellen and Stella – Children’s Garden:   One of the true little gems in our exhibition garden, this area is lovingly planted and nurtured each year by Mary Ellen and Stella.  I just love the Japanese theme and the choice of plantings that always seem to be doing something different throughout the year.  I was lucky enough to snap a few photos of some children enjoying the gardens…which says it all!
  11. Sharon, Winnie & Karen – Best Team Presentation:    The award for the best tag-team presentation has to go to this trio! In spite of an advertising snafu, they managed to draw in 10 members of the public in addition to a full house of MGs for a lively and interesting Herbs, Senses class.  The room smelled terrific with all the herbs and freshly baked bread and they managed to compliment each other very well in getting their message out…by working as a team…a novel idea!
  12. Chris Edolls – Most Informative Presentation:   In addition to being our treasurer, Chris is an accomplished apiarist.  Anyone who comes to give a class in a white jump suit and bee-keeper’s garb…automatically gets my attention and respect!.  Her presentation on bee-keeping was extremely well done and very informative.  I think we all went away with a new appreciation of what these interesting little pollinators do in our gardens. Chris is also a regular presenter on garden topics at the Ida Public Library.
  13. Jeff Nicita – Best Garden Tour:   A most accomplished gardener, Jeff was kind enough to offer his gardens this summer for a private tour.  Jeff has an eye for garden layout as well as a large repository of plant knowledge. Linda did an excellent article on the tour, and her photos say it all about his talent’s as a landscaper.  We are lucky to have Jeff as a member even though he lives in Wayne County and could just as easily belong to their association.
      A special recognition should go to Pete Wallace, another out of the area MG who was in my class of 2009…for his hard work and financial contributions to make our latest public project a reality.  Next spring,  the sundial will be unveiled in the Veterans Park for all to see and enjoy.  Jennie Stanger also was a major contributor as well as coordinator for this project, and deserves our thanks.
     There are I am sure others I have omitted, but also deserving of your recognition…Gail Keane with her labors at the Conservation District plant sale; Chris Kosal with her involvement at the YMCA,  Dorsch Library gardens and website committee; Jessie Green and Debi Beier for their preparing plant labels for the gardens and activities in the Bedford garden tours, and the committee members who produce the newsletter and handle everything from promotions to booking speakers.
      Kudos also to Paul for maintaining the association on an even keel during these troublesome times with MSUE.  Keeping a MG association  going requires commitment from all – not just a few.  Everyone has to reach inside themselves and see how they can contribute more to support the obligation this entails.  To do otherwise may well jeopardise the survival of the club as a MG association.
      Let’s plan on making next year an even more productive one as we face the challenges of the extension office closing.

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Jennie writes: I think I have finally found a place at our home for a sumac.  My farmer husband, working hard to keep our ditchbanks and drain tiles free of tree and shrub roots, does not appreciate “brush” as I do, so I needed to find a place where its suckering tendencies can be kept in check. In fact, a place where it is not likely to thrive but to struggle somewhat. Then I should be able to restrain its rapid growth as we have in the native row along the Extension parking lot, by severe pruning.  The photo shows why I want it.  The straight species’ fall colors tend to bright and deep reds, which would not show up against our barns, and they do not have such long, graceful “fronds” of such soft texture.  I do not want the yellow-leaved ‘Tiger Eye’ cultivar but the natural cutleaf mutation of staghorn that I understand was first found in Vermont. Along a barn-red machine shed the thick brown furry antler-like twigs won’t show up much in winter but the blazing yellow-green-orange fall color will, and in that hard clay, with a concrete foundation on one side and mowed tall fescue on the other, its rhizomes will be limited. Some summer day my granddaughters and I will make a cool, tart drink from the red seedheads as native Americans did.

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Linda sends her submissions along with an idea for helping MCMGA painlessly. Linda writes: Foxtail Lilies are a favorite of mine.  Currently I only have yellow.  However I just purchased: Eremurus – Foxtail Lily, Desert Candle- Pink.  I got them from bloomingbulb.com, along with a few others.  This order was one of the best looking set of bulbs  I’ve ever gotten in mail order or from on-line.  The other thing that made me happy is that they shipped from Benton Harbor, Michigan.  To top off everything, Blooming Blub donated 9% of my order to MCMGA thru GoodShop.  A Win-Win for sure! For sure I will be ordering the other colors that were currently out of stock soon.

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