Why does summer seem to fly along and winter just crawls? The Asiatic lilies are almost finished blooming, thankfully the trumpet lilies and Orientals are adding color. The Hens and Chicks are blooming, still have lots of hosta in bloom, rudbeckia, beebalm and coneflowers are blooming. The roses have a new flush of bloom. The water hyacinth is blooming and the black-eyed susan vine. Annuals of course are at full peak.
We’ve been getting Early Girl tomatoes regularly and today I picked my first cucumber. Baby pumpkins have set on the vines. Raspberries are ripening. Unfortunately the lettuce is going to seed and tasting pretty bitter. I think it’s now chicken food. The potatoes are blooming- baby potatoes soon.
While I’m still not seeing any honey bees the plants have been buzzing with small native bees and bumble bees. The comfrey is loaded with them as well as the beebalm. Gizzy keeps trying to catch them. He hasn’t gotten stung yet but I bet its coming.
The Rudbeckia laciniata var.hortensia (Golden Glow) has reached 7 feet in height and finally has begun to bloom. Bees and Japanese beetles like it. I’m hoping the Japanese beetles choose it over my grape vines, which they are eating up.
Danger! Birds and Japanese beetle traps
Its Japanese Beetle season and many gardeners are putting out yellow sticky traps to control them. But social media sites are showing how this can be a problem for birds. Some of the traps are shaped like bird feeders and small birds like chickadees and sparrows are getting stuck to them. Some birds die from this. It can be very hard to remove those birds stuck on the traps.
Make sure sticky traps are enclosed in netting or wire that will only allow beetles through not birds. If you find birds stuck to such traps any vegetable oil will help release the birds from the sticky substance. Pour it around the stuck bird. However the birds will then need to be washed with something like Dawn dish detergent to get rid of the oil before being released. You might want to take the whole trap and the birds stuck on it to an animal rescue center as quickly as possible.
Cleome or spider plant vs. marihuana
On social media people asking for identification of cleome are often told to their consternation (or maybe glee) that they are growing pot. The plants have leaves that somewhat resemble marihuana leaves. I’ve read stories that law enforcement people have also mistaken the plants for pot, which can be a problem. In some cases people have been arrested or their plants destroyed before they could prove they didn’t have pot.
Cleome and pot both have strong distinctive odors, but to my nose anyway they are not the same. It’s the leaves that an inexperienced person gets most confused about. Both plants have palmate leaves – leaves with leaflets arranged in a circle. Cleome generally has 7 leaflets though and marihuana 5. Cleome stems are full of thorns and marihuana stems are not. Cleome also has distinct showy flowers of pink, purple or white, with long “whiskers” off each flower. Pot flowers are not very large or showy and are usually yellowish green, although there are some purple tinged ones.
If you have cleome in pots or planted in gardens in the public view you may want to label them to help dispel the notion you are a pot grower. I have had people ask me with a wink what I’m growing and before the plants start flowering I sometimes think they don’t believe my answer. Labels might not help in all cases. You may want to keep a catalog, plant tag or other resource around to show people if you grow cleome. I continue to grow it because it self-seeds and comes up everywhere.
And no, the cleome plant does not get you high if you smoke it. People have actually tried it. Dumb people. People who got a good stomach ache instead of a good buzz.
Discovering a hardy orchid with high qualities
While weeding this spring I came upon a plant I had never seen before. I didn’t plant it. It was among the lilies of the valley under an oak tree, in a partial shade garden. The leaves were similar to lilies of the valley at first glance. I first noticed it when it began to send up a stalk full of tiny buds, quite unlike lilies of the valley. I decided to put off identifying it until it bloomed.
It took several weeks for the flowers to begin opening. I was amazed to see the teardrop shaped dangling buds open into tiny orchid like flowers of purple and green. With the idea that it belonged to the orchid family I searched through my plant ID resources until I came upon its name, Epipactis helleborine.
It turns out this tiny orchid is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It’s been in the US since the early 1800’s, the story goes that it was brought here by garden groups for its medicinal purposes. I’ll get to that in a minute. Poor Man’s Lady Slipper or Weed orchid, if you go by common names, has actually been in Michigan for about 100 years, although it hasn’t been recorded in my county yet. This hardy orchid has managed to naturalize across the northeastern part of the US and southern Canada.
Imagine my amusement when I came across a stern admonition from some Michigan “conservation” group warning that Epipactis helleborine is one of those nasty invasive plants that must be eliminated at all costs. Its major crime is that it occupies space that in some minds must be reserved for native species. If you read my blog often you know I don’t subscribe to the notion of plants causing the extinction of other plants, especially when they simply just move into disturbed habitat and prove to be a good fit. Nature puts the best species she can find in an environment, regardless of origin.
Some other states also classify Epipactis helleborine as invasive but most simply list it as naturalized, the same status as dandelions, chicory, and other common plants brought here and which have no major impacts on the environment. I don’t intend to remove it from my garden because it’s a fascinating little plant.
What it looks like
So let’s examine Epipactis helleborine. The perennial plants like woodland edges, partial shade and good, loamy soil. They exist in both dry and wet environments. A mature plant with flower stalk will be about 12-18 inches high. The leaves are blade shaped with distinct parallel veins and they clasp the stem in an alternate pattern. The plant has a root system of thin, narrow rhizomes and is considered a terrestrial orchid; it gets nutrients from the soil. Plants are hardy to zone 3.
In July (in Michigan) Epipactis helleborine sends up a flower stalk. The buds are teardrop shape and dangle from a short stem. Flowers begin opening on the bottom of the flower stalk. They are a typical orchid flower shape, about a ½ inch across, with a pouch on the bottom that contains nectar to attract insects. There are two petals and an odd shaped fused sexual organ on top and 3 colored sepals that look like petals on the outside of it all. Flowers are widely variable in color, according to the literature, but generally green and purple or pink, a few with white flowers have been found. The one in my garden is a light lavender pink and green.
Epipactis helleborine is said to spread both by its tiny seeds and by rhizomes. Some people say it spreads rapidly, others say it only slowly spreads. Location is everything, as they say.
Now the plants aren’t especially showy unless you see them up close and maybe you wouldn’t want them to spread through your entire garden. But they are interesting, (I’m getting to that), and the foliage left after the flowers fade should be no less attractive than lily of the valley or brunnera foliage. Those are the plants near the Epipactis helleborine in my garden. If you needed a groundcover in the shade it seems they would make a pretty good one. A hardy orchid groundcover- that’s unique.
I doubt it would make a good houseplant but you never know. Maybe someone should experiment with that idea. If mine sets seed this year I may try to germinate it indoors and see what happens.
The interesting thing about Epipactis helleborine
There are over 100 chemicals in the plant and its nectar. The orchid produces scented nectar that attracts insects to its pouch, where they imbibe and become tipsy and drowsy. Drunk, doped insects tend to move slowly and stay on the plant or its nearby relatives for a long time, which favors pollination. The nectar contains among other things vanillin and eugenol for scent and ethanol, indole, and a chemical identical to OxyContin, a morphine derivative, for making insects woozy and feeling good.
Now before some of you start seeing dollar signs with growing a legal source of a drug, you’ll want to know that the nectar also contains some other toxic chemicals that are hard to remove, like “furfural”. Believe me I came across lots of drug culture sites in my research where people talked about how to separate the OxyContin from the more harmful stuff and it was a difficult, time consuming task requiring a lot of complex knowledge of chemistry from what I could see.
The nectar from each flower is a minute quantity and although some plants have 100 flowers the harvest from all of them would still amount to a few drops. To make a profit from producing Oxycontin from Epipactis helleborine you’d have to grow acres of the plant, harvest the tiny flowers and drain them of nectar some way and run the nectar through a lab with lots of expensive equipment. Then you would still have an illegal product.
Now some of you may remember that I said the plants were brought over here for their medicinal qualities before they escaped. Some evidence suggests the plants were used to treat insanity, headache and gout. It’s suggested that the roots were used in these remedies, although modern herbals don’t cover this plant. I suggest you don’t experiment with ingesting the plant, especially if you are drug tested for your job.
I intend to leave the little alien orchid in my garden. I enjoy interesting and different plants. If it spreads I may share some. There’s some links below for more reading on the chemical properties of the plant and one where you can buy seed, although it seems few people know how to get that seed to grow.
Love in a Mist- the delightful blue Nigella
Whether you call it Love in a Mist, Devil in the Bush, Love-Entangle, Jack-in-Prison, Bride in Hair , Lady in the Green, or one of its many other common names, Nigella damascena is an interesting plant for the garden. If you like blue flowers, cut flowers, easy cottage garden plants, or plants for dried flower arrangements Nigella is the plant for you.
Nigella is native to southern Europe, northern Africa and southwest Asia. It was being grown in English gardens by 1570, where several cultivars were developed over the centuries. Thomas Jefferson grew it in his gardens at Monticello and the famed garden architect Gertrude Jekyll used it in her cottage garden designs.
Nigella has odd threadlike leaves, airy and fern like, especially at the top surrounding the flowers. The “Mist” portion of one of its common names come from the way the leaves look surrounding the flower. It grows 12-18 inches high but each plant is narrow. They look best grown in masses, which also keeps them from flopping. They have a taproot. Plants are short lived but in longer growing seasons they often reseed and a second generation will bloom in the same year.
The species has true blue colored 5 “petal” 1 inch flowers but cultivated varieties have larger flowers with more layers of petals and also come in rose, pale pink, white and several shades of blue. The petals of Nigella are actually its sepals; the true petals are hidden in the center of the flower, under the stamens. The flowers are surrounded by the ferny leaves, a pretty “misty” backdrop for each one. The flowers are good cut flowers and were often used in bridal arrangements or in a bride’s hair, accounting for another common name.
Flowers turn into 5 chambered seed pods which look like little red or purple striped balloons. The pods have “horns “ on top and bristles along the sides. They can be dried for flower arrangements. Children enjoy popping them like popping bubble wrap. The pods are filled with tiny black seeds.
Nigella is a fast growing annual so almost all gardeners can grow it. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil but is not particularly fussy about soil pH or texture. In the wild it is often found in rocky areas. It will tolerate dryness but grows better when watered moderately. It is said to be deer resistant. The plants have no insect or disease problems. Bees are attracted to the flowers.
If you want to grow Nigella you’ll probably have to start with seeds. They are available from many heritage type nurseries, a couple links are provided at the bottom of the article. You can start them inside about 6 weeks before your last frost or plant the seeds where you want them to grow in early spring. They can be sown in the fall in the garden for spring germination too. Seed should be sown on top of the soil and lightly pressed into it.
Most references say that Nigella does not transplant well because of its taproot. I sow several seeds in paper cups, (you could use peat pots), inside in late spring then transplant the whole pot into the garden with great success. Plants will bloom in about 3 months from seed.
If you are not interested in the attractive seed pods you may want to keep the nigella plants dead headed so they don’t spread too much in the garden. I don’t find them invasive and I save some seed to start inside each year just in case. Other gardeners have reported that nigella shoots those tiny seeds into the wind and plants come up everywhere.
If you want to save the seed pods cut them before they are fully ripe. Put the green pods in paper bags to dry in a warm place. Your car sitting in the sun is a good location. After they are dry many people spray them with clear hairspray or a craft spray to help preserve them.
I plant nigella in my cutting garden, beside the bachelor’s buttons, 4 o’clocks, zinnias and cosmos. They will blend well in informal cottage gardens. Keep them to the front so you can admire the unique looking flowers.
Herbal and other uses of nigella
Love in a Mist is a close relative of black cumin, Nigella sativa, whose seeds have culinary uses like poppy seeds. Some references claim that Nigella damascene seeds can be used the same way and that they taste like nutmeg. The seeds are pressed and made into an essential oil that is used in perfumes and possibly has medicinal uses. It is said to smell like strawberry jam.
Nigella sativa has some uses in herbal medicine but it’s unclear if Love in a Mist, Nigella damascene can be used the same way. Some references list the seeds and oil of Love in a Mist as toxic when ingested. When I was reading up on the plant in herbal references it was often clear that the two species had been confused. I would suggest growing the plant for its flowers and seed pods and not for culinary or medicinal use.
Here are some sources for buying nigella
The Marigold Myth
I remember my grandmother reading her Organic Gardening magazine and laughing at an article where people were urged to plant marigolds (we are talking Tagetes erecta here not calendula) around their plants to keep harmful insects away. My grandmother was trying to produce a white marigold to win a contest being offered at the time, (by Burpee I think), and she had lots of marigolds around her gardens. She knew they didn’t deter bugs one bit.
As a young adult with my own garden many, many years ago I too fell victim to the hype about marigolds, despite remembering what my grandmother felt about it years before. I was taken in by the pseudo-science being spouted by popular garden books and magazines at the time. I quickly came to the conclusion my grandmother was right.
Now that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally find marigolds in my garden. I like marigolds, especially the large flowered “CrackerJack” types. But I plant them because they are colorful and attract pollinators to some extent, although there are better flowers for that purpose. But I am not planting them to deter harmful insects, repel rabbits or deer or control soil nematodes, (there may be a small effect on nematodes), all things attributed to the marigold, because I know that is all a myth.
Marigolds that we grow in our gardens are actually native to Mexico and Central America, despite often being called African or French marigolds. They are flowers associated with the dead, bodies are washed with infusions of marigold petals and they are planted on graves. Native people also used them for making yellow dye and there are some medicinal uses for the plants, mainly for skin problems. The flowers are edible. Modern uses include feeding the petals to chickens to produce egg yolks or meat with a yellow color and to shrimp to improve their color.
So how did the myth of marigolds deterring insects get started?
There are some old studies that have shown that when marigolds were planted thickly as a cover crop and then after a season plowed under, soil nematodes were greatly reduced for crops planted after the marigolds. The studies were done on agricultural crops like soy and corn. Nematodes are tiny worm-like creatures that feed on plant roots. Gardeners seldom have to worry about nematodes. If you have the problem you would plant only marigolds in the garden for a season and then the following year plant your garden where they grew and hope for the best.
Somehow these ancient nematode studies became mangled into the popular belief that marigolds repel or kill insects. Gardeners were urged to plant marigolds among vegetable plants, in rows around the garden as a barrier and around plants like roses. There are no scientific studies that back this up and as many gardeners have found out marigolds may actually attract harmful insects to the garden. Japanese beetles will eat marigolds and like the bright yellow and orange colors many marigolds have. Spider mites also like marigolds. Aphids and some leaf hoppers are attracted to marigolds. Planting marigolds in the garden may attract these nasty pests. Slugs eat marigolds, so no, they don’t repel them either.
Marigolds are said to repel cabbage moths but no studies have ever proved this. They don’t repel mosquitoes or tomato hornworms or bean beetles or basically any insect. From repelling insects marigolds suddenly jumped in the press to becoming repellants for deer and rabbits. While they may not be their favorite food both animals will sometimes eat marigolds and planting them around a garden will not keep animal pests out.
One could use marigolds as a trap crop. That is you would not plant them around and among plants you want to protect, but far from them so insects will be attracted away from garden plants. This may work to some extent to lessen insect damage on crops or valuable plants.
Hundreds of articles have probably been written about marigolds repelling pests but that doesn’t mean that it’s true. These myths piggyback on each other. Gardeners want very much to believe in easy safe solutions to problems so they accept the advice without question. Many soon learn it’s not true and accept the fact; others attribute the failure of the plants to do as promised to the type of marigold, which doesn’t matter, the weather, or some other irrational explanation. Some people get lucky and have few pest problems the first time they grow marigolds among vegetable or other plants and help perpetuate the myth.
In some cultures planting flowers for their beauty alone was frowned upon. But if a gardener could claim some benefit from the flowers for food crops the flowers were then allowed. If a gardener liked the colorful marigolds he or she would certainly proclaim their value in the garden loudly, even if not quite truthfully.
In short marigolds are pretty flowers that would liven up any garden. They may attract some pollinators. But they won’t keep harmful insects away or animal pests either.
I remember going into my grandfather’s basement in late summer and almost being overpowered by the smell of dill from his various crocks of fermenting pickles. I do like the smell of dill however. Most people are familiar with the way dill smells and tastes, you only have to open a jar of dill pickles to get the spicy aroma. Dill is native to the Mediterranean region and has been used as a flavoring and as a medicinal plant for thousands of years.
Dill, (Anethum graveolens), is a pleasant, common herb that is quite easy for the average gardener to grow. A few plants can be tucked into the back of a flowerbed, where they will look pretty while giving you dill flowers and seeds. Often dill reseeds itself so you may not need to plant more the following year. Dill also is the larval food of black swallowtail butterflies and can be planted in butterfly gardens to attract it and other species.
Dill is an annual plant; it completes its life cycle in a season and dies. However if you let some go to seed you will seldom have to plant it again after the first time, it will pop up everywhere the next season. Dill seeds are small, hard ovals with 3 ridges on them and the seeds smell distinctively like dill. Plant the seeds shallowly, after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Thin the plants to about 8 inches apart. A gardener seldom needs more than 2 or 3 dill plants for home use.
Dill grows in almost any soil but prefers a sunny location. It is tolerant of dry conditions but should be watered if it wilts and will grow larger if watered moderately. It generally does not need fertilizer. Dill has few pests or diseases but does not compete well with weeds when young.
The dill plant generally consists of a single, hollow stalk with scattered feathery leaves along it. The plant can grow to 3 feet tall or more in a great spot. If you are unsure if you are growing dill you have only to crush a feathery leaf to smell - all parts of dill smell just like dill pickles!
In mid-summer dill plants begin producing flat umbrella shaped clusters of tiny yellow flowers. These flowers quickly turn into hard brown seeds. If you want to collect the seeds cut the drying heads before they are completely brown and store them in a warm, dry, dark place until the seeds easily shake out of the seed pods. If you wait too long to cut the drying flower clusters, the seeds may be scattered on the ground and lost.
Dill flowers are used in pickle making as are the seeds. Whole dill flowers are picked and added to jars of cucumbers or other vegetables before processing. Dill seeds are also used in pickles and to flavor other dishes. Dill leaves are sometimes used to flavor dishes such as fish also. Dill flowers can be saved for a few days in the refrigerator by keeping stems in a few inches of water.
To obtain dill flavor soak the crushed seeds in vinegar or add to a small amount of boiling water and let steep. You can put them in a bag and bang them with a hammer to crush or run them in a food processor for a few seconds. Dry dill seed is sometimes ground like black pepper and added to spice mixes. Commercially oil is distilled from dill seeds that can be used in flavorings.
I like to add a little dill pickle juice to coleslaw. Dill seeds can also be used in salads and in dishes like German potato salad.
Dill has a long use as a medicinal plant to calm gas and nervous stomachs. Seeds were given to children to chew on and dill tea or a few drops of dill oil were given to infants to soothe colic pains. Dill tea can be used for heartburn and chewing on dill seeds will freshen the breath.
One caution - pregnant women can safely eat dill pickles and dill flavored foods but should avoid dill in concentrated amounts such as teas and chewing on seeds. Dill was used to start menstruation in earlier times and may, according to some herbalists, bring on contractions.
Dill Refrigerator relish
Here’s a good way to use up some fresh garden produce and make an easy side dish for a meal or potluck offering. It can be used on foods like hot dogs too. This dish takes at least 2 hours to chill before serving.
4 cups of unpeeled thinly sliced or coarsely chopped cucumbers- if you want to use the relish on foods chop the cukes, if using as a side dish slice them.
½ cup of chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped red sweet pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of vinegar
½ teaspoon dill seed
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed
Put the dill, celery and mustard seed in the vinegar, add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Set mixture in refrigerator.
Put the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle the salt over them and toss to mix it in. Set the bowl in the refrigerator.
After one hour combine the bowls and mix well. Cover bowl and return to the refrigerator for at least one more hour. The relish will be stronger flavored the longer it sits. It will stay fresh for at least a week in the refrigerator.
Enjoy summer while it lasts! The days are getting shorter.
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.
And So On….
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