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Nicoletta Costa’s book, The Little Tree That Would Not Share, tells the story of young tree living in a city that takes great delight in his new leaves as they appear in the spring but won’t share them with the birds, butterflies or cats that approach him.  Fearful that the animals might cause his beautiful leaves to fall the little tree tells them to go away and the animals are miffed especially the cats.  As autumn rolls around the leaves of the little tree turn yellow and then fall as winter approaches.  Thinking he is sick, the little tree becomes distressed until a crow takes pity on him and explains the cycle of the seasons and that stronger and more beautiful leaves would sprout in the spring. Cheered, the  little tree makes a promise and in spring invites all the animals to celebrate among his branches.  [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Pansy

Pansy viola tricolor 2Shakespeare’s pansy is the wild pansy (Viola tricolor) that we call Johnny jump up, not the large flowered hybrid that we know by that name. Also known as love-in-idleness, , heart’s delight, tickle-my-fancy,Jack-jump-up-and-kiss-me, come-and-cuddle-me, and three faces in a hood, the wild pansy is native to Europe and Asia and was a parent of the large flowered pansies. Wild pansies are perennials or annuals growing up to six inches tall and have a creeping habit with stems that can become lanky. The leaves are oval to heart-shaped and have a wavy margin. The half inch wide flowers have five petals that are purple, blue, yellow and white and bloom from early spring to summer. Plants tend to reseed themselves especially in moist, well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They are hardy in USDA zones 4-9 but languish in summer heat. [click to continue…]

Shakespeare’s Garden: Pinks

pink cottagePinks are in the genus Dianthus that is a member of the Caryophyllaceae, and includes carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) and sweet william (Dianthus barbatus). Many different species of Dianthus are called “pinks’ so it is difficult to determine which one Shakespeare had in mind. A good possibility is the cottage pink ( Dianthus plumarius), a native of southern Europe but grown in England in Shakespeare’s time. This is a wild species but resembles the more familiar cheddar pink ( D. gratianapolitanus). It’s petals, however, are more deeply cut and the flowers are borne in twos instead of singly. The fragrant flowers have five fringed petals and are white and rose in color. The stems have swollen joints and carry the linear, gray-green leaves. Pinks like full sun, excellent drainage, and slightly alkaline soil. [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a major cereal grain and a member of the grass family (Poaceae). Early evidence for barley indicates that it has been grown in Eurasia for about 10,000 years.  It is an annual and grows over 36 inches tall so is considered a tall grass. The erect stout stems are hairless, often branched at the base, and bear a few linear to lanceolate leaves and terminal spikes up to 8″ long bearing cylindrical spiklets in a herringbone pattern.  The spiklets bear the seeds in either two rows or six rows and have very long bristly awns that are reminiscent of a fox tail.  Barley is used today for human consumption, animal fodder, and the production of beer and whiskey.  The genus name, Hordeum, comes from an Indo-European root meaning “bristly” and refers to the the long prickly awns of the spiklets.  The specific epithet, vulgare comes from the Latin word vulgaris meaning commonplace. [click to continue…]

Dames rocket is a biennial or short-lived perennial known by a variety of names including dame’s violet, mother of the evening, and sweet rocket.  It was introduced from Eurasia into North America by early European settlers in the 17th century as an ornamental, but escaped cultivation and has become invasive in open woodlands, prairies, roadsides, ditches and other disturbed areas in most of North America to North Carolina, Arkansas, and California.  The plants grow from a taproot with coarse secondary roots and produce a rosette of leaves the first year. In the second year plants grow 1-3′ tall and have sparingly branched hairy stems carrying 6′ long lanceolate leaves with dentate margins.  From spring to mid summer, white to pink and lavender flowers appear in loose terminal racemes 6-18″ long.  Each 4 petaled  flower is 3/4-1″ across and  very fragrant especially in the evening. In fall, long dry seed pods appear bearing several seeds and a single plant can produce up to 20,000 seeds in a season. Grows in sun to partial shade and average, medium moist, well-drained soil in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8 [click to continue…]

American senna is a herbaceous perennial native to eastern US from Michigan and Maine through the Appalachians and Atlantic plains south to Georgia where it grows in moist open woodlands, meadows, pastures, fields or roadsides.  It is a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, that also includes lupine, mimosa, and black locust.  Plants grow up to 6′ tall from root system consisting of tap root and rhizomes and have a sparsely branched  stout stem that is light green and slightly hairy in its upper areas. The compound leaves have 5-10 pairs of  oblong gray-green to medium green leaflets up to 2.5″ long. In mid to late summer yellow flowers 3/4″ across appear in both terminal and axial heads or spikes up to 1′ long. Unlike many other legumes, the flowers of American senna are not pea-like and lack nectaries although nectaries are present at the base of leaf petioles.   The flat dry fruit is 3-4″ long, dark brown,  and has 10-18 segments each filled by a single seed.  The flowers are attractive to and are good for the vase.  Plants are an excellent addition to meadow, wildflower, wildlife, or native plant gardens. They grow best with plenty of moisture but tolerate drought well once established.  The genus name, Senna, is the Arabic word sena describing plants that have leaves and pods with cathartic and laxative properties.  The specific epithet, hebecarpa, may be the Greek word meaning youth, and the Greek suffix meaning fruited.

Type:Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Heads or spikes of small yellow flowers from mid to late summer

Size: 3-6′ H x 2.5-3′ W

Light:Full sun to partial shade

Soil:Average, medium moist, well-drained but tolerates less

Hardiness: Zones 4-7

Care:Stake if floppy

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Seed

Companion Plants: Tall coneflower, tall larkspur, prairie aster, black eyed susan (R. hirta), joe pye weed


Book Review: On Fire

On Fire is a collection of 16 long-form essays from Green New Deal advocate, Naomi Klein, setting out her reason why the economy has to be transformed to address the problems of both climate change and the issues of social and economic inequality at the same time.  In addition, she makes a case for why the Green New Deal is not as impractical or unrealistic as critics claim.  The essays are presented chronologically beginning with 2010 and include the date and a brief paragraph that sets the essay in context.  Topics include social justice, turning capitalism upside down, the dangers of geoengineering,  Pope Francis’s ‘Laudato si, and  BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.  In her epilogue, Klein presents 9 reasons why the Green New Deal has a fighting chance.   [click to continue…]


Have you ever heard of ebulum?  The word is the ancient Latin name for dwarf elder, Sambucus ebulus and today seems to refer to a strong elderberry ale made from roasted oats, barley, and wheat boiled with herbs and then fermented with ripe elderberries.  The tradition goes back to 9th century Celtic times when Welsh druids made it and passed it to the people during the Autumn festival.  Dwarf elderberry is native to central and southern Europe and has been used in the folk medicine of the Balkan Peninsula for centuries.  The plant is herbaceous, 3 feet tall, and dies back in the winter.  It produces flat clusters of small cream colored flowers tinted with pink in late summer, and small glossy black berries in fall. Photo Credit: Wikipedia [click to continue…]

In spite of its common name, mountain heliotrope is not a true heliotrope and is not even in the same family. It is a member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae, that also includes weigelia, abelia, and twinflower.  A native of northwestern North America from Alaska and northern Canada to Montana to northern California, this rhizomatous perennial grows in subalpine meadows and moist mountain forests and is also called Sitka valerian. Plants grow up to 3′ tall but may be dwarfed by extreme condition to under 10″ tall.  The opposite lanceolate leaves grow so closely they appear whorled and are deeply lobed or pinnately divided with five coarsely toothed leaflets. In late spring or early summer, rounded terminal clusters of white, sometimes pinkish, flowers appear.  The small flowers are tubular, aromatic and have 3 stamens that extend well beyond the 5 petals. The fruit is an achene bearing a plume. The genus name, Valeriana, is a medieval Latin name possibly derived from the Latin word valere, meaning to be healthy, referring to the plants’ use to cure nervousness and hysteria. The specific epithet, sitchensis, refers to the Russian settlement of Sitka on Baranof Island where the plant was first collected.  [click to continue…]

Plant Profile: Rosa ‘Fame!”

Cherry pink buds open to semi double flowers that are carried singly or in clusters of up to 5 and strong straight stems.  The notched petals are dark pink with yellow at their base and keep their color for a long time before slowly fading to mid pink. The yellow stamens also keep their color before turning brown when the bloom fades.  The plants are bushy and have dark green, healthy leaves.  An excellent rose for exhibition as well as in cutting.

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