Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cultural History of the Poinsettia

Submitted by Linda Grimwade Philadelphia Master Gardener 

Euphorbia pulcherrima    

In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl (from cuitlatl, residue, and xochitl, flower) meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil." The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as "Noche Buena", meaning Christmas Eve. In Spain it is known as "Flor de Pascua", meaning "Easter flower". In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as "Crown of the Andes".
The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.  From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.  The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color represents the blood sacrifice through the crucifixion of Jesus.
Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations[1] in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America. They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.
Big Spring, Texas is well known for its poinsettias as the "lighted poinsettia capital". When the Comanche Trail Festival of Lights first began the dam at the big spring held four huge poinsettias made of rebar welded together in the shape of a poinsettia flower. Each flower was made up of 5 leaves. The leaves were decorated with red Christmas lights. The four poinsettia flowers were an awesome sight to see entering Big Spring from the south. Each year more flowers were added to the dam and inside the park until Comanche Trail Park has by 2006 added seven poinsettias, making a total of eleven lighted flowers on the dam and countless flowers inside the park, making Comanche Trail Park the Christmas Poinsettia capital. (wikipedia)

A column on poinsettia history.

Poinsettia the all American Christmas Flower was introduced by John Bartram in 1829.
Today the poinsettia comes in assorted varieties of color and size. The favorite being the traditional red.

Read the history of this beautiful flower by following this link.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Foricng Amarylis to rebloom

 Did You Know That You Can Get Your Forced Amaryllis to Bloom Again.

Did you receive an Amaryllis as a gift last year? You probably followed the instructions your bulb came with, and now it’s done blooming. Well, you can get it to bloom again if you follow the directions below.
Here’s how:
            1. When the flowers fade, don’t let them form seed pods. Cut each flower off at the base as they fade, leaving the stem and leaves. They help the bulb collect and store nutrients, giving it the strength it will need to bloom again.
            2. Keep the plant in a bright indoor spot, and keep on watering when the soil is dry.
            3. Fertilize your amaryllis once a month with half-strength liquid fertilizer.
            4. If the leaves start to die, that’s okay. Just remove the dead leaves and start withholding water and fertilizer. Your plant is going dormant, not dying. Everything is okay!
            5. When spring comes, and there is absolutely no danger of frost, move the amaryllis outside, in a spot with morning sun and afternoon shade.
            6. When new leaves start appearing, add some new soil to the top of pot, but don’t totally cover the bulb. Resume watering and fertilizing like before.
            7. To force for Christmas, stop watering in mid September. Bring the bulb in and put it in a dark cool dry place to rest. 
            8. In 6 to 8 weeks remove the dead leaves and start watering again. Repot and move to a warmer spot with more light. Continue watering and follow the original instructions for growing your flower.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Musing on Gardenwear

In a garden blog I read recently, a person asked “What’s a good store on-line to buy some garden work shirts?”  What??!!  People actually buy new gardening clothes?  I thought you were supposed to garden in old clothes that you would have already thrown out if you weren’t a gardener.  That old shirt with bleach spots on it, those pants that went out of style in the 1990’s - those are gardening clothes.  You can recycle from your wardrobe for years.  I know what I’m talking about.    

OK.  Once when I ran out of old clothes in which to garden, I went to the Salvation Army on half-price day and bought more.  I spent about $5 for two pairs of pants and one long sleeved shirt.  I thought it was wasteful, but it couldn’t be helped.  I needed something to garden in.    

To purchase gardening clothes on-line and pay shipping to get them is a radical concept in my cheap, little world.  What do you garden in?  And where did you get it?

Loretta DeMarco
Philadelphia Master Gardener

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A visit to Grumblethorpe in Germantown.

It's a beautiful autumn day and time to do something spur of the moment. I need to walk in a garden somewhere close and just enjoy the day. I have several choices in Germantown and Chestnut Hill. Penn State Extension has a high tunnel at Grumblethorpe.(click for map) let's go to Germantown. 

Upon arrival, my husbund and I are greeted by volunteer Richard Vogel and Heather Zimmerman who is the manager and has worked with the Penn State Extension Philadelphia Master Gardeners.  We photograph the chickens and hear the story of why they are here. It seems that the school tours gave the volunteers the idea to allow children to see where eggs come from and the types of eggs different chickens lay. No roosters, as they would wake everyone in the neighborhood. Not a good thing.

The garden is ready for winter and the leaves are falling from the many trees especially from the 250 year old ginkgo and over 100 year old crabapple. Moving along the paths we
hear the history of the gardens and what is being planned in the near future. There are beds of flowers, vegetables and a newly started orchard. There is a documented list of plants from the early gardens and it will be used as a reference to restore the flowers beds. The garden's vegetable beds provide for the farmer's market and other venues. Varities of Kale are still actively growing.
Kale and the huge Ginkgo with Richard

In the rear of the property is the high tunnel ((More information). It is providing the perfect setting for growing vegetables for the farmer's market year round as well as protecting plants in the spring before they are planted. Next to the high tunnel there are bee hives to provide honey and pollination.

Hair Agrometer
Weather Station

A view of the house through the massive ginkgo.

Cornus Mas / Cornelian Cherry Dogwood.
So what did I see today that excited me. The most interesting aspects of the garden for me were the beautiful trees shedding their leaves and showcasing the wonderful bark and structure. The massive ginkgo, the crabapple, maples, virburnum and cherry dogwood all getting ready for a winters sleep. This is the beginning of the winter interest in the garden that I love. 

Before touring the house, we walk through the kitchen herb garden and find Heather cleaning up for the winter. We talked about the gardens and volunteer opportunities including the school tours and of course, the general gardening chores. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

City garden ------winter interest

The last dragonfly of the summer at my roses.

Viewing my garden in the city from my back door in the dead of winter is often a drab affair. Brown fences and wires running down the alley, morning glory vines someone planted that have taken over the alley, everything in repose for the winter. But wait, I do have life, the cast of a thousand different sparrows, juncos and cardinals at the feeders. Of course, there are pigeons and squirrels trying to raid the feeders. We battle every year and usually they win.

But, the shin tailed hawk 
that appears from Fairmount Park takes care of that problem for awhile. He is beautiful, sitting on the fence in the middle of urban spaces of squared off, fenced 10x15 parcels often looking like receptacles for trash cans and BBQ grills and plastic furniture past it’s prime.

So how do I make this a better viewing area in the winter? What garden bones do I have in place to make my garden have winter interest? The workshop with the Master Gardeners showed plants and trees that bloom in the winter. They also talked about texture and bringing art into the garden to give it my personality.
Let’s see. I have the ivy on the fence that stays green and allows the sparrows a place to dwell in bad weather. There is the potted rhododendron with the yellow star, the metal door mat hanging like a sculpture on the wooden fence and the blue container planted with bulbs for the spring. Since I lost the Acer Griseum 2 years ago the corner is barren and ugly. 
I need to view my garden with a different lens. 
                                                                Think sepia not bold color.  

Next I am going shopping for a small tree to put into the corner. I am looking at maples and crabapples that will give me winter interest.

I found a Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) Shigure Bato. Small 10 to 12 feet, colorful red branching, delicate leaves and it fills the corner beautifully. It makes me smile. Now to give the red star to my neighbor and the corner is complete for my interesting winter garden. Irises and tulips in the spring and a wonderful tree in the winter

Monday, October 3, 2011

Freeze Those Herbs

Freezing herbs is a great alternative to drying as it locks in the flavor over a longer period of time and can be done in a variety of ways.

Herbs like dill, rosemary, thyme and sage are best kept on the stalk, placed in a zip lock freezer bag with all the air pushed out. You then snip or break off the amount you need or toss the entire stalk in the pot.

An alternative is drying leaves overnight on the counter on a cookie sheet. Wash and dry the leaves then spread them out onto a cookie sheet, freezing them on the sheet the next day. This prevents the leaves from sticking together and you then can package them to be used straight from the freezer.



Using ice cube trays is another way to be ready to cook with your favorite herbs. Wash, chop, measure and freeze the herbs of   choice in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, the cubes can be put into a ziploc bag and you can scoop out the amount of basil or dill as you need.

Finally, making herb butters is a great way to have that special butter to cook your favorite meal. No going to the market and starting from scratch the day of the meal. Dill butter for your favorite fish, garlic and chives, tarragon or whatever is your favorite for meat, poultry, pasta, corn, or vegetables.

Recipe for herbed butter
 Stick of butter (softened unsalted)                                               1/4 C of herb of choice 
 1 tsp. Of lemon juice                                                                        fine sea salt to taste 

Cream the butter and herbs together with a fork. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Using a piece of plastic wrap, roll into a log and freeze. When ready to use, slice off the desired amount. Let warm a little before using.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Extending the growing season

As our days have gotten shorter, and the nights have gotten cooler, so comes to follow the adaptation of our fall gardening habits. Some of us in anticipation of next season, proactively ready our gardens for the spring with fall plantings. Some in effort to hang on to the season, dwell while our summer veggie surplus dwindles down to lone stragglers, our tomato plants still fruiting green with hope and confusion. But as Master Gardener Jen Ryan taught in September's Second Saturday Gardening Series; some of us, are only getting started…

Did you know that you (yes you!) can grow cool tolerant vegetables, All. Winter. Long?

I know, I didn’t believe it either, but Jen Ryan has been growing cool tolerant veggies in a homemade lean-to made out of old windows insulated with bubble wrap for a while now. Old Windows? Bubble wrap? What can I say, we urban gardeners are the resourceful type.

So how does this work? First, as Jen Ryan explains, you have to maximize the amount of light your plants will receive in the course of a day by placing them in areas that get the maximum amount of light for the season; for our area that means south and southwest facing areas.

Second, you need to insulate your plants. There are many ways to do this. There are cold frames, and there are really cold frames. They come in all different sizes and variations. From Cloches, which cover individual plants to cold frames, which cover square foot gardens as large as you care to make them, but since these are covered with old windows, they are usually made to fit the window. You simply cover your plants in the ground, and keep an eye on their temperature. The goal is to keep your plants from freezing, around (ºF- ºF). How do you know what the temp is? you need a good thermometer, which may be around $30.00. But the good news for frugal types is that you can use anything from blankets, bubble wrap, reemay fabric, clear plastic wrap, or small animals (no kidding!): to insulate your plants, it may take a season to find out what works for you.    

Third, you need to be able to vent. This is very important as the cold frames can get too hot for cool season veggies. There are a few venting options: all with varying degrees of supervision involved.

Fourth, you need to know what you can grow and when you can start planting it. Surprisingly, some plants have less germination time with consistent cold temperatures then when temperatures went from warm to cold. See the very interesting germination chart by Eliot coleman:

Cool Season crops:
beets, green onions, potatoes, parsnips, radishes,
salsify, and turnips and greens like Swiss chard,
Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, collards, and lettuce

Cold Season crops:
broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, roots of carrots,
rutabagas,onions, leeks, salad greens, peas
(but not the pods), garlic and shallots
Please visit: the Penn State's Fact sheet on hardiness
classification of vegetables by clicking here

I for one am grateful for the knowledge I gained from attending this month's second saturday presentation, because it affected me personally. I dont like winter, for so many reasons, but the main one is the sad loss of seasonal gardening. Season extending gives me gardening hope instead of the tribulations of depressing winter weather to look forward to. Its like saying "Summer is taking a hiatus, so dont lament the end of your growing season, simply start a new one!" Alice Morse Earle, an 18th century author is best quoted in saying " Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of imagination. You are always living three, or indeed six, months into the future. I believe that people entirely devoid of imagination can never be really good gardeners. To be content with the present, and not striving about the future, is fatal.." I like to think how proud Alice would be if alive today, to see a whole crop of urban gardeners embracing their winter months, with bubble wrap.

Join us on Second Saturdays to expand your gardening knowledge! October's topic is Color and Texture in the Winter Garden. See you there.