Archive for the ‘Botanical’ Category


I’ve no real facts to base this on. But it seems to me that, when I was growing up, there were many more opportunities to run into pussy-willows growing ‘wild’ in the northern woods of suburbia. They were the harbinger of spring and, since as a child I loved all things soft and furry, the glossy catkins were a favorite of mine.

Though easy to root and propagate, ‘Salix discolor’ are ‘dioecious’. If you see yellow catkins at the time of pollen release, it’s a male.

Gosh, this little rhyme brings back an innocent time.

I know a little pussy
Her coat is silver gray
She lives down in the meadow
Not very far away.
She’ll always be a pussy
She’ll never be a cat
‘Cause she’s a pussy willow
Now what do you think of that?

Sure, one can buy branches and shrubs today at random florists or online, but that’s not as much fun as finding them on a walk or getting a few cuttings from the odd lady down the street.

What childhood pussy willow stories can you pull from the backwoods of your mind?

Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

Nancy R. Peck


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Since Presidents’ Day is coming up I assigned myself a little First Lady reading. Excerpts from Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” journal-column touch on a morning view of the White House gardens on a very agenda-ed day, June 9, 1939. There was to be a visit from King George VI and the Queen of England.

“The President told me firmly that I must ready at ten minutes before eleven.”

After making the rounds of every room with White House housekeeper Mrs. Nesbitt and explaining to her the English customs of morning tea, bread, butter and water with no ice, she writes:

“I think Mr. Reeves, the head gardener, has done the most beautiful job with the flowers in and around the house.” She profusely compliments him and his assistants. “It has meant a great deal to him [Mr. Reeves] to have such wonderful flowers sent in from various parts of the country.” Roses have been sent from New Jersey, “pink gladioli from Alabama, and orchids,” to be used that night for centerpiece, “come from a friend in New York City.”

“When I went out on the porch for my breakfast, I could not help exclaiming over the gorgeous vases of deep purple gladioli standing by each column.”

“The railings of the steps leading down to the garden are covered with honeysuckle in bloom and the big magnolia tree planted [in 1835] by Andrew Jackson has opened wide its blossoms.”

She goes on to write that she expects the rest of her day may be “somewhat busy . . .garden party at the British Embassy . . . I do not see that there is going to be any time . . . to do more than remove a hat!”

This was the first visit from a reigning British Monarch on U.S. soil ever—“two people who have impressed their sympathetic personalities upon a continent,” Mrs. Roosevelt writes. The six-day visit started formally but ended casually at Hyde Park for a Sunday picnic of Virginia Ham, Smoked Turkey, Rolls, Cranberry Jelly and Hot Dogs (if weather permits).

Source: The White House Historical Association—The Household Staff Prepares for a Royal Visit http://www.whitehousehistory.org

Additional source: FDR Library documents http://docs.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/royalv.html

Photo source: Serge Melki, Flickr Creative Commons

Nancy R. Peck

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Floriography. Though you won’t necessarily find that word in the dictionary, you may have seen it about referring to the “language of flowers.” In Victorian times, in prior centuries and in other parts of the world, the variety of specific plants, flowers and their colors have been used to communicate hidden, coded messages and evoke sentiments. It’s not an exact science, mind you, as over the ages meanings have been misconstrued and cross-pollinated. Nevertheless, I have gathered a LOVE bouquet out of a huge garden of meanings. Here we go:

Acacia, yellow = secret love

Carnation, red = my heart aches for you, deep romantic love, passion

Carnation, white = pure love, faithfulness

Forget-me-not = true love

Honeysuckle = devoted affection

Lilac, purple = first emotion of love

Mallow = consumed by love

Rose, red = true love

Rose, coral = desire, passion

Ivy = fidelity, marriage

Ambrosia = love returned

Indian Jasmine = I attach myself to you

Lady’s slipper = win me + wear me

Japan rose = beauty is your only attraction

Kennedia = mental beauty

Maiden blush rose = if you love me, you will find it out

Butterfly weed = let me go

Ice plant = your looks freeze me

Just checking to see if you were still reading. What mixed messages are you sending in your bouquets I wonder.

Nancy R. Peck

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If you crush the flower ‘bleeding heart,’ and red blood flows, your love has a heart full of love for you; but if the juice is white, he loves you no more.

From the Encyclopedia of Superstitions . . .— 1903.

Photo by ‘Geert Orye’—Flickr Creative Commons

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Feeling ambivalent about snow lately?

Well, get into a comfortable lamenting position, look forward to la melting, and I’ll proceed to tell you how snow is beneficial. Microbial ecologists are doing just that as we speak. Take it from them, snow is a good thing. 

Here’s why:

  • A blanket of snow acts as an insulation to your garden soil. I suppose that means keeping warmth in and keeping cold temperatures out.
  • Snow adds nitrogen to soil, “the poor man’s fertilizer.” A slow melting of snow will add nitrogen in a time-release fashion and benefit your garden. (A fast melt leads to floods and run-off benefiting no one and no water way.)
  • As long as there is snow, there are chemical exchanges going on in the soil underneath and microbes are fueling chemical decomposition. Without the snow, this action slows or stops in a bare frozen soil.
  • Yes, while a heavy storm may cause the loss of some tree branches, perennials and fragile tree roots are actually stressed less when covered with snow, and bulbs stay put with less soil heave.
  • And one last thing— look forward to nights of below zero to kill off tree-devouring pests moving in from the South. 

I hope this information helps, but I’ll understand if you are still looking at your shovel as half full instead of half empty.

A good place to learn about all this is at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies located in  the mid-Hudson River, NY area (Millbrook). 

The Institute is dedicated to the creation, dissemination, and application of knowledge about ecosystems. Much of its acreage has been set aside for scientific research but the public may visit. See their website to learn how you can experience it. http://www.ecostudies.org/index.html

Nancy R. Peck

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When I was 12 years old, I unexpectedly walked in on a flower show. It was in my junior high school cafeteria. I remember thinking what on earth are these women doing here hunched over these tables of flower pots—every single pot was an African Violet.

My gosh, I wondered, what had driven these women to this kind of obsession. No, actually at age 12, it was probably more like “this is weird,” followed by a quick exit.

Nevertheless, I had recognized these plants because my mother had had some at home. The pots lived on a setting of small rocks in a tray, soaking up some sun in the day-bright TV room. In a good week we would see purple blossoms and light pink ones too.  

“Water them from the bottom, she’d say, don’t drip water on the leaves.” They were a first introduction to fuzzy leaves.

Another vague memory I have is inserting an African violet cutting into a jam glass topped by aluminum foil, I guess to hold the leaf in place. In about a month a root would form and we’d pot it. Months later there would be a bigger plant. Propagation is fun, see? That’s about the extent of my memory.

Recently, I visited a friend named Mary. In her living room window she has a large round and rustic wicker basket overflowing with a grouping of six very healthy Saintpaulia in a southerly window. They look as healthy as can be. She feigns horticultural nonchalance about their success, but I want to learn her secrets.

Today I explored an African Violet blog in Romania (she grows Buckeye Blushing, Bliznecy, Autumn Halo, Ma’s Winter Moon) and another blog in Sweden where I learned “There are about twenty wild species of African violets, some of which are endangered in their natural habitats in East Africa. In the range of 40-45,000 hybrids circulate among collectors and growers in the world!”  A translated Ukrainian blog reads “My violets are increasingly occupying space in my apartment, but nevertheless, I always bring home new varieties.”

If you are interested in growing AV’s to show, check out this website www.avsc.ca.  At Amazon dot com, there’s a few copies left of Pauline Bartholomew’s “Growing to Show . . . African Violets”. Other books about African Violets are also available.

There’s also the African Violet Society of America www.avsa.org. which incorporated in 1947 and has grown to be “the largest society devoted to a single indoor plant in the world.”

I got a kick out of a YouTube video walking the viewer through an entire African Violet show in Central New Jersey (2010). Great specimens. Click here to view it. Chet Atkins and Les Paul were at the show too (kidding).

Also at Youtube you can find short demos on how to propogate them, for example this one.

Isn’t it nice how memories grow fonder with the passing of each year? Viva la African Violets!  

I’d love to hear of your childhood memories having to do with houseplants or gardening. Do share.

Photo source: Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike by ‘Wildfeuer’

Nancy R. Peck

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Katie's Krops

Katie + her January harvest

A while back, you may have heard about Katie and a famous 40-pound cabbage that got her started on a mission to feed people in need. That cabbage delivery to a Charleston, SC soup kitchen taught her a lesson at age 9—that her one cabbage contribution could go on to feed 275 people. The image above is Katie several years later now holding a recent harvest of greens.

Not only is Katie Stagliano still growing vegetables to be donated, but she has developed her cause in leaps and bounds. She went on to oversee the planting of a football-size field next to her school and then on to simultaneously oversee additional gardens. Katie’s Krops programs have delivered over a ton of vegetables to soup kitchens.

gardening with Katie's Krops

teaming up to plant a Katie's Krop garden

Katie has a mission, as stated at her website. She wants to start and maintain vegetable gardens of all sizes, donate the harvest to help feed people in need, AND assist and inspire others to do the same.

Now Katie’s Krops is offering a small grant to help others aged 9 to 16 get a  jump on starting their own garden harvest for those in need. Plans for any type of garden will be considered—from container gardens to urban gardens. Applicants may be individuals, a school class or a group of friends. Hurry, postmark deadline is February 11, 2011. The lucky winner will receive a gift card for buying gardening materials and receive a digital camera to record it.

A recent e-mail message from Katie says she is thrilled to be able to offer this grant and support other kids around the country in starting a garden to feed people in need in their own communities. “I have a goal to have a Katie’s Krops garden in every state and this grant will help me work towards that goal.” 

As we’ve seen in Garden Club Salon’s “Groups in the News” posts, reaching these personal missions quickly requires help from others. Katie goes on to say: “I have had so many wonderful people and organizations help me with my dream of feeding people in need through vegetable gardens. Without the support of Bonnie Plants, Disney’s Friends for Change, Troy-Bilt, RandomKid, Build-A-Bear Workshop, my school Pinewood Prep, my friends, my supporters and my family (just to name a few) I would not be able to do what I am doing. I am so thrilled that I am now able to offer support to other kids around the country to start a garden to feed people in need in their community.”

You can learn more about Katie’s Krops, support her cause and see her garden wish list at www.katieskrops.com. The grant application questions also found here are well thought out and a good student exercise in and of itself.

Well done, Katie and Krew!

Photo source: Katie’s mom Stacy Stagliano

Nancy R. Peck

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