Susan Hill's sculpture "The Giant's Head" in the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Photo Patche99z, WikiCommons.

Susan Hill’s sculpture “The Giant’s Head” in the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Photo Patche99z, WikiCommons.

“There is no try. There is only do and not do.” – Yoda

Photo of a garden nearby South Street Seaport in New York City. Taken by Shengzhi Li on April 2005. Photo WikiCommons.

Photo of a garden nearby South Street Seaport in New York City. Taken by Shengzhi Li on April 2005. Photo WikiCommons.

Topiary Gardens by a Man Named Pearl
Bishopville, South Carolina is home to less than 3,500 people, yet last year it was host to more than 15,000 visitors. They traveled to this small, impoverished town to wander the gardens of a man named Pearl. There, on a former cornfield that was cleared in 1981, you will find the Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden.
My Black Journey

African-American Gardens at Monticello
Wormley Hughes, the African American often called Monticello’s “Head Gardener,” collected seed, planted precious plants in the Monticello nurseries, and set out Mr. Jefferson’s “pet trees.” Gardener John espaliered grapes, aided in the terracing of the kitchen garden, and planted a sugar maple tree that survived for 200 years…
Twinleaf Journal Online

If You Want to Grow a Healthy African American Kitchen Garden–Here are Your Marching Orders
Let me say this first–in the African, African Diaspora and African American cultural traditions have long embraced the kitchen garden as an essential piece of daily life.  Don’t let the new crop of food advocates and activists fool you–this is a tradition that our Ancestors established, cultivated and fought for…Before anyone ever heard of a Victory Garden we had our truck and huck patches, which served as a means of cultural, economic and social power in the slave quarter through the age of the Freedmen and segregation.
Afroculinaria

A Renaissance for African Botanic Gardens?
If botanical gardens are going to demonstrate their value as resources for sustainable development, it is in Africa they will do so. The African botanical gardens have had a hard ride. Many were established by the old colonial powers, under which they flourished until the financial and political upheavals of post-colonial Africa reduced them to under-resourced shells. Today, that pattern of decline is being reversed as many African nations rise to the challenge of the Convention on Biological Diversity and produce strategies that recognize the need for retaining plant resources.
Virtual Herbarium

The Seeds of Survival
The broader truth is that gardening is a lost tradition in many African-American communities. The National Gardening Association doesn’t tally the number of black gardeners — nor, it would seem, does anyone else.
New York Times

In Praise of the Misunderstood Quince
As long ago as 1922, the great New York pomologist U. P. Hedrick rued that “the quince, the ‘golden apple’ of the ancients, once dedicated to deities, and looked upon as the emblem of love and happiness, for centuries the favorite pome, is now neglected and the least esteemed of commonly cultivated tree-fruits.” Almost every Colonial kitchen garden had a quince tree.
New York Times

Pretty Prairie Lass
So, should you grow ‘Prairie Lass’?  It seems to be a nice rose and bush and is healthy enough to keep a place for it in a collection of Buck roses. But I don’t think it is a rose that will ever make a garden visitor gasp in surprise.
Garden Musings

Distant species produce ‘love child’ fern after 60-million-year breakup
A delicate woodland fern discovered in the mountains of France is the love child of two distantly-related groups of plants that haven’t interbred in 60 million years, genetic analyses show. Reproducing after such a long evolutionary breakup is akin to an elephant hybridizing with a manatee, or a human with a lemur, the researchers say.
Science Daily

Wild Fennel; Foeniculum vulgare
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is an erect perennial herb, four to ten feet tall, with finely dissected, almost feathery leaves and characterized by a strong anise scent originating from stems and leaves. The flowers are yellow and small (one-quarter inch across), and are clustered in large, rounded, umbrella-like groups (compound umbels), roughly four inches across, that are conspicuous from April through July.
Eat The Weeds

Common box (Buxus sempervirens), the two sides of the same branch. Photo Didier Descouens WikiCommons.

Common box (Buxus sempervirens? koreana?), the two sides of the same branch. Photo Didier Descouens WikiCommons.

“What you think, you become.” – Buddha

Forsythia hedge at Dumbarton Oaks. Photo at Hedge Britannia, click image to link.

Forsythia hedge at Dumbarton Oaks. Photo at Hedge Britannia, click image to link.

A spectacular aurora photographed by Ryan Fisher in Canada's Northwest Territories on January 11, 2015. Click image to link to the aurora gallery at Spaceweather.

A spectacular aurora photographed by Ryan Fisher in Canada’s Northwest Territories on January 11, 2015. Click image to link to the aurora gallery at Spaceweather.

When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant. ~Author Unknown

House sparrows bathing. Photo Zachary, Creative Commons.

House sparrows bathing. Photo Zachary, Creative Commons.

Cat Grass for Cats – good or bad?
Though no one can deny that cats eat grass, there are only theories as to why they do. Some claim it is to get extra niacin, a B vitamin abundantly available in most fresh young grain grasses. Perhaps cats eat it to make themselves vomit. Some people believe cats eat it to help pass fur balls along while others say they just need the fiber for other nutritional purposes.
Geoff Stein/Dave’s Garden

Rise in mass die-offs seen among birds, fish and marine invertebrates
An analysis of 727 studies reveals that there have been more instances of rapid, catastrophic animal die-offs over the past 75 years. These mass kills appear to have hit birds, fish and marine invertebrates harder than other species.
Science Daily

Unusual number of UK flowers bloom
Botanists have been stunned by the results of their annual hunt for plants in flower on New Year’s Day. They say according to textbooks there should be between 20 and 30 species in flower. This year there were 368 in bloom.
BBC

Together, humans and computers can figure out the plant world
As technology advances, science has become increasingly about data–how to gather it, organize it, and analyze it. The creation of key databases to analyze and share data lies at the heart of bioinformatics, or the collection, classification, storage, and analysis of biochemical and biological information using computers and software.
EurekAlert

The Sustainable Sites Initiative
Landscapes are considered sustainable if they reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities.
United States Botanic Garden

Nectar of the Gods
The Exotic Love Vine (Ipomoea lobata) is proving to be the most vibrant and heavy bloomer in my fall garden — just when I think it can’t possibly get any better, it does.
Great Stems

William Curtis and “The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed”
The world’s longest running botanical magazine was (eventually) named after its founder William Curtis (1746–1799), who was an English botanist and entomologist. From 1771 to 1777 Curtis worked as demonstrator of plants and Praefectus Horti at the Chelsea Physic Garden…
New York Public Library

A Garden Aristocrat
The U.S. National Arboretum’s National Boxwood Collection is one of the most complete collections of boxwood in the world.  There are around 150 different species and cultivars planted in this verdant corner of the Arboretum.  Some have blue-green leaves, others have leaves variegated with splashes of cream or yellow.  Some are dwarf and mature at a height of less than two feet.  One variety, ‘Graham Blandy’,  grows upward in a narrow column like an exclamation point in the garden.
United States National Arboretum

Search the Botany Collections
The plant collections of the Smithsonian Institution began with the acquisition of specimens collected by the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842). These formed the foundation of a National Herbarium which today numbers over 5 million historical plant records, placing it among the world’s largest and most important.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

20 gorgeous peonies
Our guide to favorite varieties in pinks, reds, yellows, and more.
Sunset

Designing with Dwarf Conifers
My tiny lot did not afford much space for full-size trees and shrubs, but I knew I could make room for a few dwarf conifers, which usually don’t get taller than 1 to 6 feet in 10 years.
Fine Gardening

Horticultural Artists Grow Fantastical Scenes at the Montréal Botanical Garden
The process works a bit like this. To start, horticultural artists build metal frames for their sculptures. They cover the frames with soil netting and then plant seeds of different flora in that soil, much like a ceramicist lays tiles in a mosaic.
Smithsonian Magazine

Sex and the single evening primrose
Sex or no sex? Using various species of the evening primrose as their model, researchers have demonstrated strong support for a theory that biologists have long promoted: Species that reproduce sexually, rather than asexually, are healthier over time, because they don’t accumulate harmful mutations.
Science Daily

Detail of the roof of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. Photo Almonroth, Creative Commons.

Detail of the roof of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California. Photo Almonroth, Creative Commons.

Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart. ~Russell Page

Limonaia in Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts. "Preservation of citrus and other tender plants started out as crudely as building a pergola over potted plants or beds or simply moving potted plants indoors for the cold season. Known in Italy as limonaia, these early structures employed wood panels in storerooms or open galleries to protect from the cold," says Wikipedia. Photo Muffet, Creative Commons.

Limonaia in Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, Massachusetts. “Preservation of citrus and other tender plants started out as crudely as building a pergola over potted plants or beds or simply moving potted plants indoors for the cold season. Known in Italy as limonaia, these early structures employed wood panels in storerooms or open galleries to protect from the cold,” says Wikipedia. Photo Muffet, Creative Commons.

 

 

*garden 2014 windowsill

September 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

 

garden 2014 garage bed spring

Kitchen garden, mid-May 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

garden 2014 garage bed mid-july

Kitchen garden, early August 2014. Photo Dayton Segard.

*garden 2014 deer leg

Found this under the peach tree in early Spring 2014. Photo Kerri Conan.

*garden 2014 brush fence

Honeysuckle path in the woods. Photo Dayton Segard.

Seed-swapping is one of the great traditions of gardening and gardeners are generous souls. I’m very pleased to be growing plants from seeds obtained from gardeners around the country–specifically Nancy Ondra at Hayefield, Alicia Maynard at Sweetbay and Rob Broekhuis at Rob’s Plants. They have introduced me to many fine garden plants–several now indispensable. Here are some that did well in my northeastern Kansas garden in 2014.

HAYEFIELD
Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken’ (Click title for photo at Hayefield.)
I had long heard tales of a white-flowering Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and came across a picture of V. ‘Governor George Akin’ on the Hayefield blog in 2013. As luck would have it, Nancy was giving away seeds of that same Verbascum, and even more luck produced nine healthy plants set out last Fall. I’m hoping for five-foot spires of snow-white flowers from June through September but V. thapsus is tricky in the garden. These are not plants to be coddled. They grow in profusion in sun-blasted, bone-dry rubble along train tracks and riverbanks, but too much shade and water in the garden and they soon rot away. I planted them in sun-scorched earth but Kansas winters are wet and mucky, so fingers crossed for the Governors.

One Plant, Three Seasons: Amsonia hubrichtii (Click title for article and photos.)
“Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, Arkansas bluestar comes into bloom in the first or second week of May and continues into the first or second week of June. Its light blue color looks great with white, silvery, and pastel partners. …After the bloom period, the key summer features of Arkansas bluestar are its rich green color, its fine texture, and its dense, mounded habit. …Toward the end of the growing season, Arkansas bluestar really takes center stage.” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.

A Winter-sowing of Amsonia hubrichtii yielded 13 plants, nine making it through to wispy, foot-tall youngsters in gallon pots, now buried and mulched to overwinter. Amsonia seed need cold to germinate, barely covered and pressed into the soil. Sow seeds in pots no later than early January (I sow in Autumn), put them outside, and start looking for seedlings as weather warms up at the end of March. My two-year-olds should make airy 3′ x 3′ mounds in three years, with pale blue, star-like flowers in May and brilliant yellow foliage color in Autumn. The young plants hinted at their forthcoming glory last Fall, bright yellow threads in the dying grasses. I’ll follow Ondra’s lead and inter-plant my patch of Amsonia with blue asters. You can’t go wrong with yellow and blue.

One Plant, Three Seasons: Patrinia scabiosifolia (Click title for article and photos.)
“Is it possible for any gardener to have just one favorite plant? For most of us, I imagine, it’s tough to get closer than a top 5 or top 10. But if you asked me that question at this time of year and insisted on one top pick, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Patrinia scabiosifolia (or scabiosaefolia, as some sources prefer to list it).” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.

I now have seven plants of Hayefield’s Patrinia, four of which bloomed last year. The tallest reached seven feet before toppling in a storm. The flat-topped clusters of small, chrome-yellow flowers looked great against vines of white morning glory and orange black-eyed susan, and the foliage turned bright red in October. Like the chartreuse bracts of the Euphorbia clan, Patrinia‘s bright flowers complement most color schemes. A good see-through plant–I have several at the front of a border so passers-by can observe the great variety of insects swarming the flowers. So far in this garden, Patrinia rivals Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’–now Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’–as a bug attractor.

Patrinia transplants best in early Spring, just as the leaves emerge, and goes into a deep sulk otherwise. I agree with Nancy Ondra: this is a Top 10 plant.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia var purpurea, Japanese Burnet (Click title for picture at Hayefield.)
Sanguisorbas are the height of fashion right now, and deservedly so, for they provide flowing movement and have an elegant willowy presence. They have finely toothed pinnate foliage, above which long-lasting flowers hold themselves high on wiry stems. They associate brilliantly with equally tall, airy grasses, spired and whorled veronicastrums, and taller daisies.” – Telegraph

I planted four young Sanguisorba tenuifolia purpurea, Japanese burnet, among Miscanthus, Gaura, Nepeta and white Verbascum last Autumn, germinated from a Winter sowing in early January 2014. Might be too hot and dry for them in Summer, though extra mulch and water will help. I’m hoping they’ll be as tough as Hayefield’s Patrinia.

SWEETBAY
Fields of Gold: Bidens aristosa (Click title to link article at Sweetbay.)
“April/May and September are peak months in my garden. In September the big star is Bidens but there are other things in bloom too. All of that golden yellow needs some contrasts.” – Alicia Maynard

Bidens aristosa in full glory at Sweetbay. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Three years ago, Alicia Maynard of Sweetbay sent me seeds of Bidens aristosa after I expressed admiration for her spectacular Bidens borders. I now have plenty of Bidens and the September garden shimmers. Almost too much of a good thing; Bidens self-seeds easily and several species are considered invasive. In garden beds, it takes diligent weeding to keep in check but three-inch seedings pull up easily and transplant fairly well. Bidens is a great asset to the Fall garden, masses of mustard-yellow flowers, and an end-of-the-season boon for insects. I did some research on Bidens in a previous post: Three Bidens: aurea, aristosa, coronata.

ROB’S PLANTS
Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“Scattered along the stiff, upright stem of this unusual perennial are tough, blue-green, yucca-like, parallel-veined leaves. Smooth, rigid stem bearing thistle-like flower heads made up of small greenish-white florets mingled with pointed bracts. The individual, greenish-white flowers cluster into unique, globular heads. These occur on branch ends atop the 6 ft. plant.” – Native Plant Database

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

Flowers of Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master. Photo Crazytwoknobs, Wiki Commons.

Seed for Rattlesnake Master–Native Americans reputedly used it as a snakebite antidote–came from Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants four years ago. I now have a 5′ x 4′ clump of three plants that bloom reliably in late July–insects love the branching scapes of spiny, spherical flowers. A member of the Carrot family, it does indeed resemble a fleshy Yucca with barbed, glaucous leaves–a somewhat modest plant after flowering when it tends to flop and flatten smaller neighbors. Plant something substantial around Eryngium yuccifolium or use twiggy branches for support. Good mingling with roses.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, Lesser Calamint (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“The LESSER CALAMINT (Calamintha nepeta) is a variety of the herb possessing almost superior virtues, with a stronger odour, resembling that of Pennyroyal, and a moderately pungent taste somewhat like Spearmint, but warmer. It is scarcely distinct from C. officinalis, and by some botanists is considered a sub-species. The leaves are more strongly toothed, and it bears its flowers on longer stalks. Both this and the Common Calamint seem to have been used indifferently in the old practice of medicine under the name of Calamint.” – Botanical/A Modern Herbal

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta. Photo chhe, Wiki Commons.

Rob sent seed of the species Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta three years ago and Calamint is now an indispensable plant in the garden–over two dozen plants to date. Fragrance, flowers, butterflies and bees, tough and compact, great filler, makes good tea… A beautiful, useful, care-free plant. Mine get to about 18 inches tall and wide, a bit sprawly but smaller and bushier if cut back by half in May. The cultivars ‘Blue Cloud’ and ‘White Cloud’ are tidier.

Drought-tolerant Calamint prefers full sun in its Mediterranean home but in Kansas requires little water when mulched and grown in some afternoon shade.  If it wilts, water quickly, nip off withered stems and all will be well. It seems to like my barely amended clay soil and starts blooming here in early July, tiny bluish-white flowers borne in thousands, a low haze in the border. Calamint propagates easily through division and cuttings, and regularly self-sows–it is a mint, after all. If you don’t want volunteers, shear the plants immediately after flowering.

 

"The Explanation," Rene Magritte, 1952

“The Explanation,” Rene Magritte, 1952. Click image for more about Magritte.

“Reason uncorrected by instinct is as bad as instinct uncorrected by reason.” – Samuel Butler, Erewhon.

"The Anatomy of Plants," Nehemiah Grew, 1682

“The Anatomy of Plants,” Nehemiah Grew, 1682. Click image to learn more about Nehemiah Grew.

Save our small nurseries from the European Commission
“It would be the death of 95 per cent of all nurseries,” said the Dutch nurseryman. He was referring to some legislation proposed by the European Commission, which would make it mandatory for all plant varieties to be supported by a detailed description.
Telegraph

Acorns: The Inside Story
During World War II Japanese school children collected over one million tons of acorns to help feed the nation as rice and flour supplies dwindled.
Eat The Weeds

Ricinus communis, Castor Oil plant
Around one million tons of castor beans are processed each year for castor oil production leaving the waste pulp with up to 50,000 tons of ricin in it. And, yet, finding instances of ricin poisoning is not an easy task. So how is it that this exceptionally toxic substance fails to achieve its harmful potential?
The Poison Garden

Figs and Mulberries, Inside and Out
Figs and mulberries are both gorgeous, sexy fruits, but in very different ways. At first blush a mulberry could be the hot-mess cousin of a blackberry, while figs are classically sensual fruits, like marble nudes teetering on the edge of vulgar.
Soiled & Seeded

Pawnee Buttes Sand Cherry: the scoop
Pawnee Buttes is quietly becoming “bread and butter” (i.e., a universally grown, serviceable shrub),and yet it has become an emblem of sophisticated xeriscapes and connoisseur’s gardens in our region as well…not many plants can straddle both rather contradictory realms!
Prairiebreak

Red Tulips, Green Garden
Red tulip flowers have dramatic impact in spring when surrounded by their complementary colour green, and tulips in whatever colour have to be the ultimate complementary plants to add to a perennial meadow and awaken your gardener’s spirits in early, mid and late springtime.
Perennial Meadows

Karl Foerster’s gardens in Potsdam
The place could be divided in 4 sectors: the nursery, still up and running, the back garden, the sunken garden (front garden) and the house with a part of private garden. The house is actually owned and inhabited by Karl Foerster’s daughter, if I got it right, although I did the math and I guess she ain’t a kid anymore.
AltroVerde

Freedom Plaza 30 Years Later: Nothing Left to Lose
I’ve made the pilgrimage to see the work of the late Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden at the Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC three times in the last ten years. Each time, I have been sadly disappointed.
The Gardener’s Eye

Seed trade/sale list
This is my current list of seeds I have to trade. I also keep a copy up at Gardenweb during the trading season (roughly, September through December). If you see some varieties you’d like, shoot me an e-mail trade request.
Rob’s Plants

Short Dictionary of Specific Epithets
Included are epithets referring to structure, form, habit, color, habitat, and other descriptive terms. Still the list is hardly begun after 702 items. I feel some resistance to continue, because you should have no need to discover these meanings if you accept my argument that plant names are just names. What is important is that those names be unique. Unfortunately, it is too much to hope for them to be unchanging.
Tom Clothier

The Carosello Massafrese
For those of you who are not familiar with what a Carosello is, Carosellos are cucumbers that are are a melon botanically and a cucumber agriculturally. This means that they grow like a melon but taste and are eaten like cucumbers – only better!
The Scientific Gardener

Kansas Peonies—From Russia with Love
Russian peonies still bloom in Kansas wherever the Mennonites and their descendants settled, towns like “Newton, Hillsboro and Gossel.”
Human Flower Project

In search of evergreens for Kansas
Kansas is the only state in the Lower 48 that doesn’t have a native pine tree. We’re not the icy-cold tundra of the Upper Midwest, where native pines can take the cold winters, and we’re not the desert Southwest, where native pines can take the hot wind. “We’re both,” said Jason Griffin, director of K-State’s John C. Pair Horticulture Center in Haysville.
Wicihta Eagle

Northumberlandia
The prone female figure of Northumberlandia shares some of the swoops and surprises of that garden, but is altogether rougher and less refined. She forms the centrepiece of a new, privately funded, but very public, park, and is apparently a quarter of a mile long, with 100ft (30m) high breasts, and a body made from 1.5m tons of rock, soil and clay.
Landscape Lover

Bras in Space: The Incredible True Story Behind Upcoming Film Spacesuit
It turns out that the 21-layers of gossamer-thin fabric in the Apollo spacesuits that kept Armstrong and Aldrin from “the lethal desolation of a lunar vacuum,” as Nicholas de Monchaux puts it in his remarkable book “Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo,” was created by the same people who made your grandma’s bra. Playtex.
The Credits

"The Dream," Henri Rousseau, 1910. Click image for more on Rousseau.

“The Dream,” Henri Rousseau, 1910. Click image for more on Rousseau.

“Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.” – Bill Vaughn

"Le Jardinier," Paul Cezanne, c 1886. Click image for more on Cezanne.

“Le Jardinier,” Paul Cezanne, c 1886. Click image for more on Cezanne.

"Easy to mix them up!" Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod. On the left is slender mountain mint

“Easy to mix them up!” Kelly Kindscher holds up two cuttings of common prairie plants. On the right is grass-leaved goldenrod; on the left is slender mountain mint.

“My work is about plants and people.” – Dr. Kelly Kindscher

Kelly Kindscher is a Senior Scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey and a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas, where his students call him “Kelly.” Many Kansans know him as “Mr. Prairie.”

A lifelong Kansan, Kindscher is a founder of the Kansas Land Trust, a statewide conservation group, and KU’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Program, which bio-prospects for medicinal compounds in native prairie plants. Somewhere in there, he found time to map coneflower populations in Wyoming; study wetlands in New Mexico; chart the plants in Kansas’ state parks; and publish dozens of papers and two books: Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie (1987) and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie (1992); both published by the University of Kansas Press.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

Kindscher propagating native plants in the greenhouse.

In 2006, Kindscher and University of Arizona ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan published Renewing the Native Food Traditions of Bison Nation, a manifesto calling for the large-scale restoration of free-ranging bison to large tracts of the Plains, and the renewal of food traditions unique to the region. Immense herds of bison modified the prairie landscape for thousands of years, creating rich habitat for many plants and animals, which in turn provided highly nutritious food for Native Americans–a population now plagued, like much of the nation, with diabetes.

Kindscher knows full well the wealth of the prairie. Thirty years ago he and a friend walked across Kansas, a 70-day trek in blazing summer, tracking the changes in vegetation.

Prairie turnip (Psoralea esculenta), chokecherries, lambsquarter, wild licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota), prickly pear cactus, leek-flavored Yucca blossoms and wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa; “The best prairie mint.”), were once used as food and medicine by Plains natives. Kindscher is powerfully fond of lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), a quinoa relative weedy enough to infuriate gardeners. He cooks big pots of it with olive oil. “I wish more restaurant chefs would catch on to lambsquarter,” he says. “It’s a hearty, flavorful green, a sweeter version of chard, and it grows wild everywhere. It gets a nine out of ten for flavor.

Kindscher in the field.

He also favors the puckery chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), once a dietary staple of Plains tribes, combined with bison jerky to make pemmican, the native American equivalent of a mega-energy bar. In the creek-laced woods are leafy stands of LINK pawpaws (Asimina triloba) with green, oblong fruits with a golden, custardy pulp that mingles tastes of pineapple and banana. “The pawpaw is the only tropically related fruit that has made it this far north,” Kindscher notes. He praises the buffalo currant (Ribes odoratum), especially “Crandall”, a Kansas cultivar prized by rural jelly-makers. “Jelly and preserves are a great way to capture phytonutrients,” he adds.

The wild prairie is abundant in edible roots, bulbs and tubers rich in complex carbohydrates–a trade-off for their often subtle flavors. “Most native root crops–prairie turnips, hog peanuts, Jerusalem artichokes–are too bland for modern palates,” Kindscher observes, “though they generally offer superior nutrition. You have to choose between healthy food and junk and sometimes that means different tastes.”

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The wild tomatillo, Physalis longifolia.

The concept of food as medicine looms large in Kindscher’s work with the Native Medicinal Plant Research Program (NMPRP). The NMPRP was granted a U.S. patent in 2012 for the discovery of new chemical compounds in the wild tomatillo (Physalis longifolia), a prairie fruit significant to the Indian diet. “Dried, they taste like sweet cranberries,” says Kindscher. The compounds in wild tomatillos also show promising anticancer activity in melanomas, thyroid and breast cancers, and certain leukemias.

The NMPRP’s work on the lonesome prairie has not gone unnoticed by the mainstream. In spring of 2013, Kindscher was contracted by Kellogg’s “to prospect prairie plants for healthful cereal products,” he says, “looking specifically for fiber and protein.” Someday there might be a taste of the wild prairie in your breakfast bowl.

Kindscher’s knowledge of prairie plants takes him to the classroom and the field, the kitchen and the community pot-luck, the laboratory and the dais, the courtroom and the publisher. “I’m a jack-of-all-plants,” he laughs. And how does a jack-of-all plants unwind at home at the end of another flora-filled day? He tends a vegetable garden that most people would call a small farm.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Flower of Physalis longifolia, near Cimarron, Kansas.

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Ripe fruit of Physalis longifolia. The fruits were eaten raw, cooked and dried by the Zuni, Hopi and other Native American tribes

Egyptian orchard and cereal cultivation at Sennedjem-deir-el-Medina. Image unknown.

Egyptian orchard and cereal cultivation at Sennedjem-deir-el-Medina. Image unknown.

“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.” – Betty Bender

Antirrhinum majus 'La Bella Bronze & Red Series' in the Solar Garden at Great Dixter. Photo Maggie Tran (see below). Click image to link to "A Year at Great Dixter."

Antirrhinum majus ‘La Bella Bronze & Red Series’ in the Solar Garden at Great Dixter. Photo Maggie Tran (see below). Click image to link to “A Year at Great Dixter.”

A splendid last planting (but not the last post)
One of the jobs given to me in my last week at Dixter, was the delightful task of planting up The Solar Garden, which was more than I could ask for. I have seen it through many phases, from planting tulip bulbs, to pea-sticking over a hundred antirrhinums in which Leo Böhm joined me in this painstaking task.
Maggie Tran: A Year at Great Dixter

The Good-for-Nothing Garden
The grass is a hint: The garden at Federal Twist is meant to be a prairie — or a prairie masquerade. It is an ecosystem that most likely never existed here on the edge of a shaded woodland. …Mr. Golden has sowed native plants by the thousands. But he is not restoring a pristine habitat.
New York Times

A Visit to Rotary Botanic Gardens
Last Wednesday my friend and fellow plant geek Jess and I traveled to Rotary Botanic Gardens in Janesville, WI.  While she’d been there a number of times, this was my first time.  I was thoroughly impressed at how great the gardens looked, even this late in the season.  I’m not putting a lot of words into this one, just LOTS of images:
Confessions Of A Plant Geek

Woody Plants for Shade Part 9
Ashe magnolia, M. macrophylla ssp. ashei, is a subspecies of the bigleaf magnolia, or maybe it is its own species, but the important thing is that it only grows to 15 to 20 feet tall with a similar width. The specimen at the Scott Arboretum is 10 feet tall after 20 years. It has the same spectacular, tropical-looking 24′′ leaves. The huge 10′′, highly fragrant flowers are pure white with a purple center spot and bloom in early summer.
Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Red Flyer Mallow
Cerise flowers as big as soccer balls? In May and June, I’ve still got my pride.  But by September?  Bring ’em on. ‘Red Flyer’ is a perennial hibiscus that—despite the name—will be the peak of your pink-friendly garden.  And I mean peak: the plant can reach twelve feet!
Louis the Plant Geek

Clianthus formosus
The brilliant flowers were as noisy as parrots and pulled me in from 50 yards away. I was guessing some kind of erythrina. Up close I could see that the leaves were as subtly beautiful as the flowers were flamboyant. The foliage had the typical, finely cut stamp that all members of the pea family possess, such as lupins, but grey and fuzzy like Dorycnium hirsutum. Offhand, I can’t think of another plant that combines flowers in the colors of the tropics with leaves that would look at home in any Mediterranean landscape.
A Growing Obsession

Deutzia gracilis
Slender deutzia is a dense, rounded, deciduous shrub with slender, broadly spreading to arching stems. Typically grows 2-4′ (less frequently to 5-6′) tall and as wide. Tiny, fragrant, bell-shaped, white flowers (to 3/4″) appear in spring in numerous loose racemes (to 3″ long) which cover the shrub for about two weeks. Opposite, ovate to lanceolate, deep green leaves (to 3″ long). No fall color.
Missouri Botanical Garden

Persicaria/Falopia/Polygonum Growers Please!
I am hoping one of you will educate me about the final word on the nomenclature for the japanese knotweed family of persicaria, falopia, polygonum.It is sooo confusing!!
GardenWeb

Persicaria polymorpha
I wanted it very badly. Unfortunately, it was a Knöterich—a knotweed—and knotweeds being what they are, I figured it was bound to be one of those horrors that would swallow up the garden in a single season and then proceed to colonize the entire continent, resulting in complete ecological collapse.
Overplanted

While The Cat’s Away
I rushed into the house to get my camera and he obliged by remaining there. I got in touch with my neighbor and my gardening friends and I quickly got the message that we needed to deal with this. It was going to be very dangerous to try to garden if he was still around. Unable to raise anyone over the weekend David decided to go though the garden and check any place he might hide.
Rock Rose

Arise, Ye Wretched
Poor Jane Austen: how could she have foreseen the changes in denotation that would make a straightforward description of her heroine, young Catherine Morland, who at age 15 “began to curl her hair and long for balls,” ridiculous?
American Spectator

How Titanoboa, the 40-Foot-Long Snake, Was Found
Fifty-eight million years ago, a few million years after the fall of the dinosaurs, Cerrejón was an immense, swampy jungle where everything was hotter, wetter and bigger than it is today. …The lord of this jungle was a truly spectacular creature—a snake more than 40 feet long and weighing more than a ton.
Smithsonian

"Chrysanthemum" by Piet Mondrian, 1908

“Chrysanthemum” by Piet Mondrian, 1908

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” – Lily Tomlin

This clarifies everything. Click image to link to The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

This clarifies everything. Click image to link to The Journal of Irreproducible Results.

Two inches of snow fell last night in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

Two inches of snow fell last night at the NOAA station in Goodland, Kansas, in the northwestern corner of the state. Click image to link to Finger on the Weather in Wichita.

It was a normal season for this Kansas garden: nipped by late freezes, flooded through June, parched by summer drought, contorted by wind, blistered by the prairie sun, devoured by insects (mainly flea beetles and grasshoppers), set back by 60-degree nights in August, wilted by Verticillium, flattened by storms and now mauled by nut-caching squirrels. And it looks like we’re in for a hard Winter.

If the only food plant I could grow was okra, I would be fine with that. Easy, tough and delicious. A thick patch of Clemson Spineless planted in a rubber stock trough was standing in rainwater for 10 days in July, despite daily bailing. I didn’t punch holes in the tank when I planted because it stands 40 inches high and holds 150 gallons. It seemed a shame to damage such a useful object. Okra’s spreading roots go down about eight inches, leaving nearly three feet of soil below. I threw in a deep layer of gravel for bottom drainage and figured only a monsoon could fill that tank. Wrong again, and hard evidence to support my theory that there’s a strong whiff of masochism in gardening–the way I do it, anyway. The okra pulled through despite inundation and I enjoyed excellent succotash for a month or so. Next year I’m growing rice in that tank.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Photo Chris Paulk. Click image to link to Foodista.

Greens do well here in Spring and Fall and unusually cool weather in June and July prolonged the first season. Southern Giant mustard, a heat-tough Lollo Rossa lettuce, and a third-year selection of an exceptionally crunchy and unknown strain of Oak Leaf lettuce finally bolted in early August (bitter about three weeks before), but I’m still picking arugula and it carries quite a sting. The arugula planted at the end of September will be sweeter in cool weather. Nasturtiums are roaring back as the temperatures drop. Every part of that plant is good to eat. The leaves and flowers are succulent and peppery (orange flowers best), the stems add crunch in stir-fries, and the large, green seeds are pickled and marketed as capotes, giant salad capers.

I planted three dozen robust starts of Siberian kale in March–half in part-shade, to see if that might help them to cope better with summer heat–and the rabbits really enjoyed them. And still I refuse to fence my greens.* Masochism.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

Verticillium wilt of tomatoes. Photo via Ontario Crop IPM.

In July, I watched vigorous, four-foot-high, fruiting tomato plants succumb to Verticillium wilt-a common fungal problem in northeast Kansas gardens. Conditions were perfect for Verticillium to flourish in early Summer: prolonged cool–moderate temperatures and wet soil. Verticillium affects most of the Solanaceae–tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers–but the peppers growing next to the afflicted tomatoes stayed healthy and productive. Why? The peppers were F-1 hybrids (Red Knight), bred and crossed to resist a variety of diseases and insect predators; the tomatoes were open-pollinated heirlooms, much less resistant. To my palate, heirloom tomatoes have an obvious flavor advantage over most hybrids (though “JetStar” is good eating). Growing heirlooms next year will require more raised beds or more containers, affording a fair measure of control over soil conditions. To grow tomatoes in-ground next year, I’m restricted to hybrids.  Well, there’s always “Sungold.”

Flowers did better than food this year and there were many floral “firsts.” Winter-sown Patrinia scabiosifolia from Nancy Ondra at Hayefield yielded a dozen healthy seedlings. Now there are five, thanks to the litany of environmental grievances listed above, but The Five look healthy and strong: deep-green rosettes of ovate leaves in full Kansas sun thriving on low-to-moderate water. Tough plants. Next year, fingers crossed, they will send up scapes three to six feet tall with panicles of bright yellow, hermaphrodite flowers that hum with all sorts of insects.

Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants supplied seed of Balloonflower, Platycodon grandiflorus “Sentimental Blue,” which also yielded about a dozen sturdy plants. The rabbits enjoyed them as much as the kale. They also liked the Talinum paniculatum “Kingswood Gold,” the dainty, chartreuse-leaved Jewels of Opar. One plant of each remains, relatively safe in pots, and both are blooming now, stock for next year–if they make through Winter. The Balloonflower blossoms are stunted on my straggling specimen, barely two inches across, of a clear French blue. Opar’s blossoms are tinier still, a half-inch of single pink petals with a boss of bright yellow stamens and minuscule orange fruits.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Polygonum orientale. Oh, those excessive and romantic Victorians! Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com. Click image to link.

Last year I read up on annuals popular in the Victorian era. This year I grew Polygonum (Persicaria?) orientale, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. The knotweeds–Polygonums/Persicarias/Fallopias; whatever they are called todaygenerally do well here, often too well. A flamboyant patch of escapee Polygonum/Persicaria bistorta, has taken over a wet ditch by the North Lawrence pumping station, and the tough but delicate-looking Virginia knotweed, Persicaria virginiana, long ago made itself completely at home in the Burroughs garden.

Of the eight seedlings of Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate set out in Spring, only two survived, contorted by wind and storms. The weakest went to seed at a mere two feet; the survivor is five feet tall by three feet wide and the flower bracts have maintained their hot pink color for two months. Polygonum reseeds easily and I’m hoping for sturdier offspring next year, as in the photo above.

Three more annuals, all new to this garden in 2013, did very well in spite of difficult conditions: Bidens aristosa, Tickseed; Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear; and Ipomoea sloteri, Cardinal Climber. Granted, all three are generally known as tough, vigorous plants; rampant or invasive in some areas.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

Bidens aristosa borders in full glory at Sweetbay in North Carolina. Click image to link. Photo Alicia Maynard.

The Bidens seed came from Alicia Maynard’s garden at Sweetbay in central North Carolina. Her Bidens borders are spectacular: billows of two-inch flowers–which, though two-toned, read as a clear, medium yellow–on sturdy five-foot stems of dark green, pinnate foliage. Bidens species bear close resemblance to their relatives, Cosmos and Coreopsis. I scattered seed in Fall of 2012 (seed needs cold stratification and light to germinate), in three different exposures of the garden: full sun, all-day dappled light and afternoon shade.

The shaded Bidens required little supplemental water, grew to three feet and bloomed willingly, if sparsely, from mid-July to late September. The plants in full sun needed weekly watering but were bushier and grew to four feet, flowering profusely in early August through early October. All the plants were swarming with honeybees; Bidens makes a fine, dark honey.

While at least a hundred species are native to the Americas, Bidens are listed as invasive or weedy in some parts of the country, wetlands in particular. Not surprising, as a single plant can produce up to 6000 seeds. I’ll keep a close eye on volunteers next Spring but Bidens aristosa is a plant I’d like to see full-time in the garden.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either "Lion's Ear" or "Lion's Tail." From my research, "Lion's Ear" generally refers to L. nepetifolia; "Lion's Tail" usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia reaching for the sky. This plant is commonly referred to as either “Lion’s Ear” or “Lion’s Tail.” From my research, “Lion’s Ear” generally refers to L. nepetifolia; “Lion’s Tail” usually means L. leonurus, the most widely distributed species (naturalized in California and the South). To see more, click image to link to Strange Wonderful Things.

Leonotis nepetifolia, Lion’s Ear, a member of the Mint family, elicited the most comments from garden visitors this year. At eight feet tall, with medium-green, heart-shaped leaves and stacked whorls of tubular, bright orange flowers (the lion’s “ear”), it is indeed a remarkable plant, friendly and somewhat coarse. Native to Africa and hardy to Zone 9 (an fast-growing annual here in Zone 6a), Leonotis nepetifolia germinates readily at warm temperatures, the seed lightly covered.

Like all mints, it revels in water but my plants in amended clay were surprisingly drought resistant. Four plants were placed in full sun, two in afternoon shade. The shaded plants languished, barely reaching three feet with no bloom, so give Leonotis nepetifolia plenty of sun, even Kansas sun. Despite their thick, square stems, stand-alone plants were soon toppled by wind and required emergency staking. I stake as little as possible. Next time, I’ll grow them closer together in clumps for additional support. The base of each flower contains a tiny reservoir of sweet nectar that attracts hummingbirds.

Cardinal Climber mingling with Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

Cardinal Climber mingling with orange Thunbergia alata and honeysuckle. Click image to learn more at Gardening From The Ground Up.

If you wish for serious hummingbird action in your garden, a must-grow is the Cardinal Climber, Ipomoea sloteri, another plant with confusing nomenclature. Dave’s Garden lists the synonyms Ipomea x multifida, Quamoclit multifida and Quamoclit sloteri. The common name, too, is often misleading–Cardinal Climber is frequently referred to as Cypress Vine, Ipomoea quamocliteven by seed companies. Both plants are similar in flower but the foliage of the Cypress Vine is finely cut, like asparagus, while the leaf of Cardinal Climber depends more on the standard, heart-shaped form of the Ipomoea clan and is deeply incised, looking feathered or fingered. Both plants are attractive, but I find Cardinal Climber to be fuller, healthier and more floriferous–hence the crowds of hummingbirds.

An old-fashioned vine, perhaps too pedestrian for fashionable gardeners, Cardinal Climber is one of the most attractive, reliable and easy-going plants I’ve ever grown (in five gardens to date, ranging from Zones 5 to 11). Officially hardy to Zone 9 or 10, depending on position; an enthusiastic annual everywhere else. Given the right conditions–full sun, occasional water in dry times, and a structure to climb–it can reach 20 feet in one season. Cardinal Climber reserves it’s one-and-a-half-inch, deep scarlet trumpets until late August but the profusion of blooms and hummers that follows is worth the wait. The flowers are similar in color to those of Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans, another hummingbird attractor, and they pair well together.

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* Three years ago, to defend against rabbits, nearly every plant in the garden was caged in chicken wire. A friend came to visit one day and as we sat and talked in the garden he casually remarked, “I imagine the garden at Alcatraz looks like this.”

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