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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Eat your veggies and your chocolate, too!

“Never mind about 1066 William the Conqueror, 1087 William the Second. Such things are not going to affect one?s life … but 1932 the Mars Bar and 1936 Maltesers and 1937 the Kit Kat – these dates are milestones in history and should be seared into the memory of every child in the country.”

– Roald Dahl, author of the children’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964

Roald Dahl was very much impressed by chocolate companies when he was growing up in England. Back in the 1920s, he happened to live in a neighborhood to which the famous Cadbury  Company sent test packages to schoolchildren in exchange for their families’ opinions about the company’s new chocolate products. Can you imagine growing up as a taste-tester for one of the world’s most famous chocolate companies? No wonder Roald Dahl wrote the fantastical story about Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka, the Oompa-Loompas and the rest of all the characters in the beloved  book and film adaptations.

In Sunday’s column (Feb. 11, 2018), I wrote about how gardeners can grow a sweet chocolate garden filled with perennial and annual flowers and herbs that look and smell like chocolate.

My vegetable garden is another place I can grow my chocolate and eat it, too. This year, I’m growing a “chocolate” salad with organic heirloom ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ container tomatoes and ‘Brown Dutch’ lettuce. I picked up the lettuce seeds last summer when I visited Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate, Monticello.

I like growing my tomatoes in canvas bags so I can move them out of the late-afternoon sun if I need to. ‘Tasmanian Chocolate’ tomatoes produce clusters of rich mahogany  and chocolate-streaked globes with a sweet, earthy taste that also smells delicious on the vine. The ruffled fruits are dense, flattened on the top and slightly ruffled. They grow vigorously on deep-green vines reaching 3-3 1/2 feet tall.

This week, I’m starting a tray of tomato seeds in my greenhouse. The seeds will be sown in cell trays in a soil-less medium 1/4 inch deep, and kept moist on heat mats set at 80-degrees F. under lights for 16 hours each day. I cover the plants at night but remove the tray lids during the day to allow for air circulation. I find that if I don’t provide enough light for germination, my tomato seedlings become leggy very quickly. I rotate my trays every day so each side of the tray receives the same light exposure.

When the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, I transplant them into larger pots in soil with compost and organic fertilizer – all tomatoes, and especially container tomatoes – are hungry plants. I’ll keep the seedlings indoors, and keep monitoring their moisture levels, until the weather permits hardening off. I’m looking for consistent night-time temperatures of 50-50-degrees F. before I’ll move to the canvas bags and place them outside.

I’m also excited to start some ‘Brown Dutch” lettuce in the garden, partly because it sounds so delicious and partly because it was the. most frequently planted lettuce of 17 varieties that Thomas Jefferson consistently grew in his vegetable gardens at Monticello. Southern climates favored sowing the seeds in the fall for winter crops, but for outdoor planting, I like to sow my lettuce seeds directly in the garden in late February and early March for spring harvests that sometimes last through June.

Lettuce seeds will be sown in soil amended with compost and organic fertilizer and kept moist with plenty of sunshine. 1-inch seedlings should be thinned to 6-8 inches apart. It’s important to have row cover ready for cold nights. The biggest challenge I’ve had in growing spring lettuce is keeping varmints, including the rabbit that we inherited from our daughter, away from the tender green lettuce shoots. I’ve started planting loose-leaf lettuce in containers, too; it does well as long as the soil is kept moist, and the container is tilted slightly to capture the sun. I cover the containers at night until temperatures stay around 50-degrees F.

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Technology in the garden

“Americans…saw themselves creating a society in the image of a garden.” ~ Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden, 1964

In Sunday’s Mail Tribune column (Feb. 4, 2018), I shared six garden apps that I think are useful mini-machines for planning, designing and maintaining our vegetable and flower beds. Here’s a link to a nine more garden apps that you may find helpful. I particularly like the digitized, interactive version of The New Sunset Western Garden Book.

I’d love to hear about your favorite garden apps. Post a comment here to share with other gardeners.


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Local sources for assessing and planning pollinator-friendly gardens

“I realized it for the first time in my life: there is nothing but mystery in the world, how it hides behind the fabric of our poor, browbeat days, shining brightly, and we don’t even know it.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees, 1993

In Sunday’s Mail Tribune column (Jan. 21, 2018), I offered 10 ideas for creating a pollinator habitat in our gardens and landscapes. Here are links to three local sources that are helpful for assessing and planning pollinator-friendly gardens and yards.

Gardening with Oregon Native Plants West of the Cascades

Native Pollinator Plants for Southern Oregon

Plants for Pollinators in Oregon

  1. 1.     Sun, soil and moisture conditions of areas for pollinator habitats

My pollinator-friendly garden

Sun exposure varies in my yard, from full sun to partial sun in areas where the tall maple and sycamore trees provide shade during part of the day. I have a lot of native clay in my soil, so it is often wet in the winter and dry in the summertime. The soil in my yard is watered by drip and spray irrigation. For the past several years, I’ve amended the soil by working in 3-4 inches of compost each spring and mulching with bark to keep moisture in during our summer drought periods.

I want to focus on drought-tolerant plants that do well in full sun or (8 hours of direct sunlight a day; afternoon sun OK) and partial sun exposure (4 hours of direct sunlight a day, preferably in the morning).

  1. 2.     Water for pollinators  

I have an electric fountain in my front yard. I used to also have a bird bath, but some neighborhood turkeys (the bird kind) knocked it over and broke it. I still need to replace it. Drip/spry irrigation also provides moisture on plants.

  1. 3.     Shelter for pollinators

I provide lots of natural shelter for pollinators in my yard. I have trees with exfoliating bark and cavities. I have bare patches in my soil for ground-nesting pollinators. I also keep most of my perennials standing over winter to provide food and shelter for pollinating insects and birds.

  1. 4.     Current pollinator plants

Native pollinator plants

Oregon white oak, Oregon vine maple, evergreen huckleberry, kinnikinnick (bearberry), goldenrod, Western yarrow

Non-native pollinator plants

crabapple ‘Snowdrift,’ black-eyed Susan, candytuft, purple coneflower, rose campion, lavender, lupine, oregano, rosemary, sage, sedum, statice, strawberries, thyme, coreopsis, purple verbena, foxglove, Erica (heather) nicotiana and annual and perennial chrysanthemum

  1. 5.     Other appropriate pollinator plants

Native pollinator plants

Full sun and drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials and annuals: blueblossom (SH), deer brush (SH), Oregon sunshine (P); horsemint (P), narrowleaf milkweed (P); farewell-to-spring (A), globe gilia (A), California poppy (A)

Partial sun and drought-tolerant shrubs, perennials and annuals: red-flowering currant; red-twig dogwood, red elderberry, mock orange, ocean spray, Oregon grape, Nootka rose, salal, serviceberry, Douglas spirea, asters (Douglas, Eaton’s Henderson’s, Oregon golden), blue-eyed grass, camas, Western red columbine, Douglas and Oregon iris, Oregon sunshine, Cascade penstemon, broadleaf stonecrop

Non-native pollinator plants

Full sun/partial sun and drought-tolerant perennials and annuals: agastache mint, perennial alyssum, Gaillardia, bluebeard, erigeron, centaurea, pelargonium, globe thistle, hyssop, allium, scabiosa

  1. 6.     Pollinator cover crops

Early to mid-blooming (N=native)

Alfalfa, baby blue eyes (N), bell beans, calendula, crimson clover, mustard, vetch

Mid to late-blooming

Alyssum (annual or sweet), basil, borage, California buckwheat and sulphur (N), coriander, cosmos, red clover, dill, marigold, Mexican sunflower, scabiosa, single zinnias

I’m creating a spreadsheet that includes bloom times, flower color, and plant size. I’ll use the information to create a planting map for the new pollinator plants I select for my yard and garden.

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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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