Sneak preview of garden on this year’s AAUW tour

Eagle Point resident Dennis Godfrey is one of five private gardens that are part of this year’s Spring Garden Tour hosted by the Medford chapter of AAUW. The tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 9. For tickets and more information, visit the AWUW website at:

'Carefree Beauty' with peonies

'Jude the Obscure'

Royal Brown bungalow, circa 1908



Vegetable garden

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What the heck is that? Spittlebugs!

“Do not spit in the well – you may be thirsty by and by.” – Russian proverb

This proverb encourages us to think before we act – useful advice inside and outside of the garden!

However, it looks like someone missed the well and expectorated on some of my garden plants – yuck!

Spittlebug on feverfew

Actually, these globs are made by spittlebug nymphs (superfamily Cercopoidea), which, as adults, are sometimes called froghoppers because they can jump from plant to plant at great heights and distances. Adults lay their eggs on leaves; after overwintering, the eggs hatch in early spring.

Most gardeners are  familiar with these insects as nymphs because it is at this stage of development that they attach to a plant stem, excrete a frothy, spit-like substance from their rear end, and then encase themselves so they can grow up in peace. The “spit” protects the insects from predators and from drying out on hot days.

Spittlebug nymph

Within their private little bubble, spittlebugs feed by sucking sap from their host plant. Although damage to plants is minimal in most cases, a large spittlebug infestation can weaken plants. Spray spittlebugs off plants with a stream of water from the hose, or spray the plants with an organic repellent that is also useful for deterring crickets: Mix one blended garlic bulb, one teaspoon of red pepper powder and one tablespoon of liquid soap with one quart of water.

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Tips for tip-top tomatoes

The street
filled with tomatoes,
light is
its juice
through the streets.

~ Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Tomatoes”

tomatoes in grow bagsMy street isn’t filled with tomatoes, but my backyard sure is! Here is our collection of Abe Lincoln, Persimmon and Chocolate tomato plants grown from seed and recently transplanted into grow bags. We’ve had the best results irrigating our tomato plants with a drip line and emitters. We love growing our tomatoes in grow bags; we wash and reuse the bags season after season.

Here are a few tips for tip-top tomato production:

  • Fertilize with an organic balanced fertilizer when transplanting starts, and then every two weeks once plants have set fruit.
  • Water consistently until the soil is evenly moist.
  • Provide afternoon shade with lightweight row cover when temperatures rise above 95 degrees to prevent blossom and fruit drop.
  • Keep branches trimmed back so air circulates among the vines.
  • Some yellowing of leaves is normal when plants set fruit; trim dead foliage off the plant.
  • Tomatoes don’t have to look perfect to taste delicious – eat them off the vine in your garden!

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Sneak preview pics of upcoming Soroptimist garden tour

Gardeners share their inspiration during annual Soptimist garden tour

Here are some sneak previews of the gardens on this year’s Soptimist garden tour, which features 6 diverse gardens in Jacksonville and Central Point. The tour takes place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sat., May 19. Click above for more information.

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Spanish moss on a live oak tree in Louisiana

“I Am Louisiana” by Paul Ott

“I’m Spanish moss on a live oak tree
Cajun fried shrimp and a cypress knee
I’m Bienville, Captain Shreve, Beauregard,
Zach Taylor and Jean LaFitte
I’m New Orleans, the land of dreams
Creole cookin’ and a Mardi Gras king
I’m a thoroughbred racin’ at Louisiana Downs
Avery Island and a catahoula hound
I’m the Louisiana Hayride and the birth of the blues
The Evangeline, Chickory Coffee and Baton Rouge
I’m when the Saints Go Marchin’ In . . . the Superdome
The Atchafalaya and an old plantation home
I’m jambalaya, a catfish fry and a file’ gumbo
A sugar cane patch, Pete Fountain,
French Quarter and Satchmo
Well, I’m the Mississippi River
As it rounds the bend
I Am Louisiana
Ya’ll Come Back Again.”

It’s nice to get away sometimes and experience somewhere new or an old favorite again. Last week, Jerry and I visited my daughter and celebrated my birthday in New Orleans, a city we both fell in love

Southern live oak tree

with during the 10 years our family made our home there. We moved away just two months before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and this wass the first time we’ve had a chance to go back. While we were there, we hiked a portion of the Barataria Preserve Trails, which is part of the Jean Lafitte National

Historical Park located about 30 miles southwest of the city. We had never been there before, so the strange and beautiful flora of this classic Louisiana wetland was a pleasure to experience.

Giant blue iris - Louisiana state wildflower

Cypress knees and young alligator

Savinia in the bayou

Spanish moss and dwarf palmetto

Bald cypress

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A kiss to currants for native and pollinator gardens

“I stamp this kisse upon thy currant lippe.” - Theseus in William Shakespeare’s Two Noble Kinsmen, Act 1, scene 1

Theseus, Duke of Athens, and his bride, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, have not been married long when Theseus goes off to battle and must leave Hippolyta behind. He kisses his beloved on her “currant lips” and whispers, “Sweet, keep it as my token.” How

Theseus and Hippolyta

romantic is that!

Indeed, Shakespeare often used plants to conjure up vivid images of the color and texture of a character’s physical attributes. In this case, the Bard is comparing Hippolyta’s luscious smackers to the ripe redness of the English red currant berry. Ribes rubrum is a close relative to the gooseberry bush. There is also a black currant (Ribes nigrum), and they make wonderful jellies/jams, pies and sauces.

This fruit is not to be confused with the raisin-like currants (Vitis corinthiaca), which Shakespeare also mentions in The Winter’s Tale.

Native red currant (Ribes sanguineum)

The red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), native to our area, is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 10-feet tall, but can be kept smaller with pruning. The scarlet flowers in racemes bloom in springtime, and the dark-colored berries are ready to be picked in late summer. This relatively low-maintenance shrub is a perfect addition to pollinator gardens as it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.

March is a good time to plant new currant bushes and other cane-fruit plants.  It’s also a good time to prune established berry bushes. The OSU Extension recommends removing dead and crossing branches, and then cutting back any canes that are older than four years old at ground level. This will encourage new growth and more productive bushes.

When I prune, I also add compost and a slow-release, organic fertilizer to the soil (balanced N-P-K) and a few inches of mulch around the plant.

If leaf and cane spot fungi have been a problem on cane berries, now’s the time to use a copper spray to help protect the plants from disease. Spray again two weeks later.

Red currant (ribes rubrum)


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The poop on turkey poop

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause…”

Turkeys struttin' their stuff in my front yard.

Wait a minute; it’s too late for that. Those are 20-pound turkeys scrambling around my rooftop, driving my two dogs, and thus me, into a frenzy inside the house. Jerry runs out with a broom to shoo the turkey-toms away, but they’ll be back tomorrow: strutting, fanning, digging, scratching, pecking, wobbling, gobbling, peering…and pooping. Lots and lots of pooping.

My neighbor, who feeds the turkeys, diligently walks around the neighborhood collecting turkey poop in a plastic jug. He uses it in his compost and swears that turkey poop is one of the best natural fertilizers around.

I decided to investigate his claim further, and here’s what I found out about the benefits of turkey poop in the garden:

First, turkeys do, in fact, excrete a lot of waste. Large tom turkeys at 16 weeks old let loose a little more than 1 pound of manure every day. Females poop only slightly less than 1 pound a day.

Second, according to the OSU Extension Service’s Garden Guide for the Rogue Valley (2017),  poultry poop, whether turkey or chicken, has the third-highest levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K) of any animal fresh manure, behind goat poop and the hyper-pooping bunny rabbit poop. (I know rabbits poop a lot because Jerry and I inherited one when my daughter went off to college.)

The drier the manure is, the more nutrients it contains.

Third, turkey poop usually breaks down more rapidly than other fresh manures, so it can be used more quickly in the garden. The best way to use turkey poop is by hot composting or brewing up a compost tea.

Fourth, turkey poop will last for two years, so you can collect it and and use it for a couple of garden seasons.

So, my neighbor is right to collect the turkey poop and use it as an effective soil amendment. I wonder if he’ll climb up on my roof and collect it there?

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“Beware the ides of March” – but garden anyway

“A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.” ~ Brutus in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Act I, Scene 2

When Julius Caesar hears this ominous warning, he blows it off by saying, “He is a dreamer; let us leave him.” Yet, on March 15, the mystic’s vision becomes horribly real when Caesar is assassinated by none other than Brutus, himself. Shakespeare may have forever colored the phrase “ides of March” with foreboding portent; however, before the Bard’s play the ides of March simply meant the first full moon of the month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th. In fact, before Caesar changed the calendar, the ides of March marked the new year, a cause for much joy and celebration.

Leave it to the most famous tragedian in the world to turn a holiday into a real downer.

Yet, the ides of March in the Rogue Valley can be somewhat gloomy. One day it’s shirtsleeves, the next day snow mittens. In fact, the most important thing I’ve learned about gardening in the Rogue Valley during March is to get out and garden whenever I can. If I wait until the perfect gardening weather to stay put, I’ll still be sitting around without anything done in May!

In Sunday’s column (March 4, 2018), I wrote about sowing seeds indoor and outdoors for spring and summer veggies. Indeed, March is a busy month for Rogue Valley gardeners for transplanting starts and fertilizing perennial plants, too. Here are some more vegetable planting tips provided by the OSU Extension Service:

  • Transplant asparagus roots this month. In your garden bed, create a trench about one foot deep and wide, and create mounds at the bottom of the trench with about 6 inches of compost. Spread the roots of 1-year-old crowns (asparagus is a biennial vegetable) on the top of the mound and cover with 2 inches of soil. Continue to fill the trench with compost as the plants grow, but avoid covering the leaves.
  • Transplant head lettuce starts into the garden this month.
  • Transplant onion sets smaller than a dime this month. Onion sets are small, dry bulbs whose growth has been disrupted). When onion sets are planted, they regrow and slough off the old bulb.
  • Transplant strawberries this month. Select a combination of June-bearers, ever-bearers and day-neutrals to harvest strawberries from late spring until fall frost. Also fertilize established strawberry beds with balanced nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N-P-K).
  • Divide artichoke crowns from your established parent plants this month and fertilize; also fertilize established artichoke beds with balanced N-P-K.
  • Fertilize all cane berries this month (raspberry, blackberries, gooseberries, etc.) with a balanced N-P-K or higher-phosphorous mixture (promotes flowering and setting fruit). Some gardeners say to delay fertilizing blackberries until they flower.
  • Fertilize established grapevines this month with lower-nitrogen fertilizer.

    Asters need to be divided and re-planted

For my flowerbeds, I’m working around the weather to cut back my perennials, clean up debris, and add compost dressed with slow-release, organic fertilizer (balanced N-P-K). I’m also transplanting some

overcrowded perennials: daylilies, gaura, foxglove and asters.  Finally, I’ve cut back my rose bushes to knee height. One of my rose bushes has black spot on the stems, so I’ve cut this bush back pretty hard and applied a fungicide.

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Shakespeare also mentions seeds

And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
An alligator stuff’d, and other skins
Of ill-shaped fishes; and about his shelves
A beggarly account of empty boxes,
Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
Remnants of packthread and old cakes of roses,
Were thinly scatter’d, to make up a show.

~ Romeo in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene 1

In this scene, the anguished Romeo believes Juliet is dead, and vowing, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight,” he plans his suicide by seeking out an apothecary’s shop to buy poison. It’s interesting to think that Romeo’s detailed description of the poor apothecary’s inventory, including “musty seeds…and old cakes of roses” has conjured up the same images of a dusty shop filled with bottles of mysterious things in the minds of countless people over the last 400 years.  I can almost smell the musty scent of the old herbs and dried flowers in the apothecary’s shop, and so could the audiences who watched the play during Shakespeare’s lifetime.

In fact, as I wrote in this week’s Mail Tribune column, Shakespeare mentions plants, seeds and gardening practices more than 70 times in the four plays from Shakespeare’s canon that will be performed during the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2018 season: Othello, Henry V, Love’s Labor’s Lost and Romeo and Juliet.

In Romeo and Juliet, the Bard mentions a variety of flowers, herbs, grasses, trees and shrubs:

monkshood (the poison),  pinks, roses, pepper, rosemary, rue, wormwood, rushes, apple, hazel, pomegranate, quince, pear, willow, and yew

I’m growing all of these plants for the Romeo and Juliet garden tableaux, which is part of The Bard’s Garden I’m creating at historic Hanley Farm. More about The Bard’s Garden to come!

For now, I’m sowing lots of seeds (hopefully, not musty seeds) in my greenhouse. It’s my favorite place to be at this time of the year.

My greenhouse isn't an apothecary's shop, but it's fllled with mysterious things!

Lights and heat mats help seed germination.

For me, sowing seeds always begins with cleaning seed trays!


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Daffadils “haste away so soone” but there’s more to be done in the garden

Faire Daffadils, we weep to see
You haste away so soone:
As yet the early-rising Sun
Has not attain’d his Noone.

~ Robert Herrick, To Daffadills, 1648

In Sunday’s Mail Tribune column (Feb. 18, 2018), I wrote about dancing with the daffodils, which are beckoning springtime right now in the Rogue Valley.  But that isn’t all I’ve been doing in the garden this past warm-winter week. I’ve been taking advantage of the weather to cut back the coreopsis,  purple verbena, foxgloves, feverfew and other perennials that I left up over winter for foraging pollinators.

I like this time of the year. Underneath all of the dead stems and stalks and seed heads new growth emerges. Immediately the garden’s somberness  turns verdant.

Now is also the time of year when I have learned to be ready for any kind of weather. During early springtime in Southern Oregon, the weather can turn on a dime. As a matter of fact, nighttime temperatures are supposed to drop to the teens within the next few days. We may even catch a few more snowflakes in the valley – so different from just yesterday when I gardened in my shirtsleeves!

All of that new growth I’ve uncovered in the garden is vulnerable now; row cover will come in handy to protect the plants when temperatures dip below freezing. Even if the row cover blows off in the wind (as often happens), the outer leaves will help protect the inner foliage and root systems; perennials have a marvelous way of adapting to fluctuating temperatures. These plants have established  in my garden for a few seasons, so they’ve adapted to the micro-climate of my front yard. I’ll plant new perennials after the frost date (around April 28).

As I was clearing out the plant debris, I noticed that I need to thin out a few of the most ambitious reproducers in my garden. These are my purple foxgloves that are quite happy in the partial shade they get closer to the laurel hedge; also the gaura, or bee blossom, plants are maybe a little too content along my front path. Along with some daylilies in my front berm, I need to thin out all of these baby plants and move them to other spots in the garden or share them.

Speaking of rampant producers, there is another reason I like this time of the year. Underneath all of the dead stems and stalks and seed heads I find

Perennial garden after!

fledgling weeds lurking. Like every year, I fool myself into thinking I’m superior and pluck the exposed weeds out without mercy. I know they’ll exact their revenge on me later, but for now I feel triumphant.

One of the mature coreopsis has grown a thick tuft of foliage. I’ve added to my to-do list: thin out some inner leaves so the plant receives more sunlight and air. Without all the foliage, the plant will focus on producing bright yellow blossoms that begin in springtime and last almost until frost (usually around the end of October).

I wonder if the plants enjoy getting a haircut as much as I do?

As I’m clearing out the perennial gardens, I  notice some spots I want to fill in with plants, and other spots where I may want to try something different this season.

I like this time of year. Underneath all of the dead stems and stalks and seed heads new possibilities emerge.

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  • About the Authors

    Rhonda Nowak

    Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, writer and teacher. With more than 25 years of gardening experience and a Ph.D. in literature and language arts education, she combines a love for plants, poetry, and prose in her Literary Gardener blog. ... Full Profile
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