Plants

Corpse Flower Viewing is Botanical Craziness

Corpse FlowerI’ve done a lot of kooky things in my day, but waiting in a long line of other early-rising plant nerds to get a glimpse (and whiff) of a flower could top the list.

The alert went out last night on the 10 o’clock news: The Corpse Flower at the Denver Botanic Gardens has started to bloom!

DBG members would get the first crack at seeing the monster plant starting at 6:00 a.m. When I arrived at 6:30, the parking garage was full and there was already a line that snaked its way around Marnie’s Pavilion. It was a little like standing in line for Space Mountain at Disney World.

It certainly paid to get there early. I waited just over an hour and was lucky enough to grab one of 1000 commemorative Corpse Flower barf bags — a clever play on the fact the plant emits a distinct fragrance to attract pollinators when it’s in full bloom.

Fairy gardens need these Fairy Flowers

fairy garden flower fairyEvery fairy garden needs a few fairies flitting around to make sure all is growing well.

The best fairy garden fairies — the ones who make a gardener’s wishes come true — are those made from the garden’s own flowers, like hollyhocks.

It takes just a few minutes to transform an ordinary hollyhock blossom and bud into a fairy flower all dressed up in a ballgown and ready to dance around the garden.

Fairies made from hollyhocks are a bit elusive because of the plant’s biennial nature; they have a two-year growth cycle. The first year they develop deep roots and a rosette of leaves and the next year they send up a flower stalk. That’s the perfect time to get your hands on one of these flower fairies.

 

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How to plant peppers in your vegetable garden

pepper assortmentI’ve never met a pepper I didn’t like. Hot, sweet, fried or dried, I’m crazy about them all. That’s why I plant at least a dozen different pepper varieties in my garden every season.

There will always be several jalapeno plants, but each year I enjoy adding new-to-me varieties. I’ve been known to pick a pepper plant just so I could grow enough chiles to prepare a single recipe. ‘Holy Mole’!

I’m drawn to peppers because they’re versatile in the kitchen and grow in so many different sizes, shapes and colors. There are baby bell peppers, slender green Thai chiles, long red paprika peppers and even black edible ornamentals.

Then, of course, there’s the thrill of the unknown when taking that first tantalizing bite.

Has a pepper ever made you cry or cause steam to vent from your ears? That painful burning sensation is nature’s way of letting you know you’ve had too much capsaicin. Capsaicin is the flavorless, tasteless alkaloid compound that stimulates the pain receptors in your mouth.

Companion Gardening Expands Options for Small-Space Vegetable Gardens

companion plantingThere are just some things in life that make ideal combinations.

It’s peanut butter and jelly for lunch; cookies and milk for dessert.

When it comes to the garden, there’s tomatoes and basil; radishes and spinach.

These combinations of vegetables and herbs make perfect partners when grown together in the garden, especially if you’re gardening in a small space.

Basil makes the tomatoes tastier and radishes attract destructive leafminers away from the spinach. These botanical buddies are two examples of how plants team together to help each other.

Companion planting is the art and science of arranging combinations of two or more plants to benefit one another. Planting certain crops together saves garden space, controls pests and encourages healthy gardens.

Native Americans practiced companion planting for centuries by growing corn, beans and squash together. These vegetables are called the Three Sisters because they complement each other when planted in the same hill.

An Herb a Day Keeps Mosquitoes Away

green leavesThe American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) wants you to know this is National Mosquito Control Awareness Week.

You are aware of mosquitoes, aren’t you?

That’s what I thought!

Mosquitoes are certainly annoying, but they can also spread West Nile virus. That’s why it’s important for gardeners to do all they can to control these insect pests.

“Over the last few years, the U.S. has had increased cases of mosquito-borne illnesses such as the West Nile Virus and other exotic diseases such as dengue fever and Chikungunya threaten our shores,” says AMCA Technical Advisor Joe Conlon. “To ensure the safety of family, friends and pets, it’s extremely important to make sure you’re taking the proper steps: first, reducing mosquito breeding through water management and source reduction, and second, reducing adult
mosquito populations.”

The AMCA says one of the easiest and most crucial thing to do is to remove any standing water around your property. Empty pots, tarps, tools and trash cans of any water that has collected as they are all breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Defining Seed and Plant Terms Avoids Confusion

seed packetWhile answering questions after a recent vegetable gardening talk, a beginning gardener asked me to explain some common seed terms found in garden catalogs and on seed packets.

Because there’s a lot of confusion these days about seed and plant terms, I thought I’d share my answers to help you with your seed sorting, too.

Common Seed Terms Defined

GE—Genetically Engineered seed describes the method of incorporating genes directly into an organism. These seeds are not found in nature, but they are genetically engineered in the laboratory. Some examples of genetically engineered crops include corn modified to protect itself from corn borer damage and herbicide-resistant soybeans, canola and other crops. It’s unlikely that home gardeners will see any packets of GE seeds in garden centers or catalogs.

Behold Some Important Facts About Bees

bumblebee on sunflowerI hope the idea of National Pollinator Week has inspired you to consider ways to help the pollinators in your garden. If you’re looking for even more inspiration, there’s a book I’d like to recommend to you. “Letters from the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind” is a book from Dr. Stephen Buchmann, an important member of the Pollinator Partnership. The book (Bantam, 2005) will give you new insight into the hive and the vital role bees play in our history, culture and kitchens.

I had the chance to interview Dr. Buchman in 2005 when his book was first released. This interview originally was published in The Denver Post newspaper at that time.

The most overworked and under-appreciated garden helper is the bee.

Like their human commuter counterparts, bees leave their nests early each morning to go to work. Their day is spent flying from flower to flower searching for nectar and pollen. At dusk they return home to rest before the start of another busy workday.

Moth emerges from garage, lives to tell about it

empty cocoon When John was trimming the red twig dogwood shrubs earlier this season, he found a cocoon clinging to one of the newly pruned branches.

The cocoon looked like a tightly wrapped bunch of leaves and it had some weight to it, too.

He left the cocoon, still attached to its branch on the patio table for me to find. To keep it from getting soaked in the daily deluges we experienced throughout May, I moved the cocoon and branch into the garage and left it on my workbench.

Then I promptly forgot about it.

That is until one day last week when he called me outside to see a moth that was lying on the ground.

“I was in the garage and felt something fluttering at my feet,” he said. “I saw this moth and moved it outside. I hope it’s okay.”

“It looks like it’s drying its wings,” I said. Then I took a few pictures and went back inside the house.

The National Pollinator Network Needs Your Garden

bee on flowerPlant and bee counted!

We’re celebrating National Pollinator Week and need gardeners across the country to join in.

You don’t have to have a large garden; any size garden is an important part of the gardening network to help take care of pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and even bats.

Every seed or  plant that helps feed our pollinators counts.

In fact, your garden can count even more toward the One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge.

By 2016 we hope there will be at least 1,000,000 pollinator gardens registered at the Pollinator Partnership website.

The One Million Pollinator Garden Challenge is the goal of the brand new National Pollinator Garden Network. The network is a collaboration between more than 20 different conservation organizations, gardening groups and seed companies.

One of the National Pollinator Garden Network organizations is one I’m very familiar with — the National Wildlife Federation. For more than a dozen years my landscape has maintained its status with the organization as a certified backyard habitat.

Plant for Pollinators During National Pollinator Week

swallowtail on zinniaHappy National Pollinator Week to you!

It’s time to celebrate all that pollinators do for gardeners by doing all we can for pollinators.

Insect pollinators, like honey bees and butterflies, do much of the important work in our gardens. They fertilize plants by feeding on or walking through flowers, moving pollen from one part of the plant to another.

It’s estimated that 80 percent of plant fertilization depends on pollinators. Without their help we wouldn’t have much in the way of the fine fruits and vegetables we grow in our gardens.

Pollinators need our help to stay healthy and active. Are the bees buzzing, butterflies floating, and hummingbirds darting from flower to flower in your garden? Whether on a tiny balcony, small patio or large backyard garden, you need to encourage activity by planting flowers that provide nectar and pollen all season, from early spring to first frost.

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