Autumn’s beauty captured in seeds

“Touch-me-not seed vessels…go off like pistols on the slightest touch, and so suddenly and energetically that they always startle you, though you are expecting it. They shoot their seed like shot.”~ Henry David Thoreau, “The Dispersal of
Seeds,” c.a. 1856

In this week’s column, I wrote about fall as the beginning point for plant life (Sunday, October 23, 2016). Even though I’ve long associated fall with endings, Thoreau reminds me that the dispersal of seeds in autumn marks the start of the trajectory of life for a new plant that will emerge from its protective capsule come spring. Click here to view exploding seed from the spotted touch-me-not plant, also called jewel weed (Impatiens capensis).

Thoreau inspired me to take a second look at my garden plants with my camera, this time focusing not on the dying foliage but on the presence of seeds, waiting patiently for the winds that will release them from their parent and set them off on their independent journey. What an uplifting experience!

Flaming maple leaves in my front yard

Rudbeckia seeds on flower disk

Dogwood drupes with seeds inside

Calendula seeds

Pelargonium seeds

Iris seeds

Strawflower seeds

Canna lily seed vessel

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great garden reads for flower gardens and container gardens

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher and orator (106-43 B.C.E)

This week, I offered some suggestions for fall and wintertime reading to spark your gardening imagination (“Garden of the Mind: 25 Tips for Winter Garden Imagining,” Oct. 16, 2016). In addition, I have several garden books in my library that focus specifically on growing ornamental plants – annuals, herbaceous biennials and perennials, vines and grasses. I’ve also collected several books on container gardening.

The following are my favorites that you may also find useful for planning, planting, and maintaining your flower beds and borders. Although some of these books are no longer published, I think they are worth scouting around for and buying used. Happy reading and gardening!

  1. “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Flower Gardening” (Susan Roth, 1995). I use this book all of the time because it provides information about everything related to flower gardening: flower-growing basics, how to design country, traditional, naturalistic, problem-site, and color-scheme gardens, as well as pictures, descriptions and suggestions for growing hundreds of perennials, annuals, bulbs, roses, ornamental grasses and ferns.
  2. “The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers from Seed to Bloom” (Eileen Powell, 2004). I use this book to schedule sowing seeds, planting and propagating. Powell provides helpful tips on collecting seeds from garden plants, starting plants from seed indoors, and transplanting seedlings into the garden. Then she provides a comprehensive listing and description of annuals, biennials, and perennials according to their botanical names with various common names listed as subtitles. For each flower entry, she provides information and times for sowing, germinating, transplanting, caring for plants, propagating, and any special cautions gardeners should take with plants, such as those with poisonous parts.
  3. 1001 Garden Plants and Flowers: Tips and Ideas for Garden Lovers (Antje Rugullis, 2008). My daughter gave me this book as a Christmas present and I absolutely adore it, mostly for the spectacular photographs taken by Modeste Herwig. The author provides recommendations for everything ornamental – bulbs, annuals, biennials, herbaceous perennials, grasses, trees and shrubs, climbers, herbs and roses. This is the book I use to narrow down my flower selections to particular cultivars.
  4. Gardens to Go: Creating and Designing a Container Garden (Sydney Eddison, 2005). Eddison shows you how she creates entire gardens with potted plants, including recommendations for specific plants that do well in containers, how to choose pots, how to arrange potted plants, and accessorizing your container garden with furniture and garden arts. This is my favorite container garden picture book because of the beautiful photographs taken by Steve Silk.
  5. Pots in the Garden: Expert Design and Planting Techniques (Ray Rogers, 2007). This container garden book focuses on designing and arranging individual pots of plants. Rogers explains basic design elements and uses the colorful photographs taken by Richard Hartlage to discuss what works and what doesn’t.
  6. Step-by-Step Guides for Creating Container Gardens. I have several of these that I think are useful for beginning container gardeners or those who have more experience but want something visual they can use as a starting point. I can’t decide which ones I like best because I use all of them, so…
    1. Container Theme Gardens (Nancy J. Ondra, 2016)
    2. Container Gardening for All Seasons (Barbara Wise, 2012)
    3. Container Gardening: 250 Design Ideas & Step-by-Step Techniques (Editors and Contributors of Fine Gardening, 2009)
    4. Container Gardening: Fresh Ideas for Outdoor Living (Hank Jenkins and Editors of Sunset, 2010).

Please share your suggestions for great garden reads by posting a comment.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More ideas for winter gardening: Propagating from cuttings

“Propagation is a fascinating subject and is well worth taking up for the sheer interest and enjoyment that it provides.” ~ Alan Toogood, “Plant Propagation Made Easy,” 1993

I’ve been writing about different ways to garden during the wintertime, and propagating plants from cuttings is yet another way to continue our

Theophrastus (c. 372-287 B.C.E), father of botany

horticultural endeavors throughout the cold months ahead. (See my Mail Tribune articles on Oct. 1 and Oct. 8 and my Community blog article on Oct. 2 for other winter gardening ideas.) Toogood tells us that asexual propagation (from cuttings, roots, etc.) was likely first used by the ancient Greeks and Romans about 2,500 years ago.  Theophrastus, author of “Enquiry into Plants” (c. 350-287 B.C.E.) discussed a method of propagating plants from shoots and dipping the stems into oxen manure to stimulate rooting and encourage a strong root system.

Today, of course, many gardeners use hormone rooting powder for successful propagation from cuttings; however, it’s fascinating to know that our modern way of propagating plants from cuttings stems (pun intended) from methods that were used so long ago.

There are two ways to propagate tender perennials from cuttings over the winter. The first method is to collect the youngest stems from a plant now and allow the parent plant to die. The trick is to find plants that still have succulent growth, such as dahlia, pelargonium, chrysanthemum and fuchsia. When possible, take basal cuttings from the crown of the plant as these are the  most tender shoots. Put the stem from the cutting without leaves into a jar of water and place it indoors on a sunny windowsill. Refresh the water frequently and wait until roots have developed. Or dip the cutting stem into rooting powder and place it in rooting compost or other suitable medium. Once the cutting has rooted, transplant into a 4-inch pot with high-quality potting medium and mychorrizal fungi to support further root development. Give the plant plenty of natural and/or artificial light and use a balanced N-P-K fertilizer regularly.

Basal cutting of a lupine

The second method of propagating from cuttings is to bring dormant plants into a heated place with lots of light in mid-winter and force them into early growth for cutting purposes. Remove cuttings once the shoots have grown about 2-3 inches and treat them as described above.

Although propagation from cuttings (and other methods) is a great way to increase our plant

Coleus cuttings rooting in water

inventory inexpensively, Alan Toogood reminds us that one of the best reasons to try our hand at propagating is because it allows us to really get to know plants. He says, “You will find that you look at plants more closely…You will observe their habits and characteristics and the way they develop…into full-sized plants.”

Sounds like a good way to continue learning and gardening during the winter to me!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fall and winter gardening in a hotbed

“Winter is not a season; it’s an occupation.” ~ Sinclair Lewis, “The Job,” 1917

If gardening will be one of your wintertime occupations, there are several ways to ensure that your plants don’t become too cold, even if you do. (See “Undercover gardening: Mysteries revealed, Oct. 2, 2016 for my discussion of cold frames and cloches.) In addition, cold frames can be converted into hotbeds, either by using electric cables or by adding fresh horse manure with straw to a pit dug about one foot below the soil surface in your garden bed. The manure generates heat as it decomposes and warms the soil. Covering the bed with glass or plastic keeps in the heat during cold nights, but be sure to remove the cover during the day for air circulation.

The OSU Extension Service publishes a handy guide called “Fall and Winter Vegetable Gardening in the Pacific Northwest.” In addition to instructions for converting cold frames into hotbeds, the guide provides recommendations for specific varieties of vegetables for fall and winter gardening. Check it out!

milk jug cloche

straw bale cold frame with old windows

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Are you an ecological gardener? Ask yourself these 5 questions!

“Imagine a garden that never has pests, never needs digging, doesn’t need to be rested in winter, has no need for crop rotation, has virtually no weeds, needs very little water, and practically looks after itself. ” ~ Jonathan White, creator of Food4Wealth

Australian horticulturalist and environmental scientist Jonathan White says we can all have gardens like this if we practice ecological gardening. What’s more, he says an ecological garden “produces many times more than a traditional vegetable garden and regenerates itself year after year.” Jonathan offers lots of practical guidelines for creating a robust, productive edible garden that is also easy to maintain and is aimed toward ecological stewardship. Access an interview with Jonathan about his system of creating an ecological garden at

The topic of ecological gardening is also of concern to gardeners in Southern Oregon and the Rogue Valley. That’s why I’m excited about a class called “Are You an Ecological Gardener?” presented by OSU botanist and horticulturalist Linda McMahan at the Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium on November 5 in Medford. Linda poses five questions to help us determine if we are practicing ecological gardening:

  • Do we plant drought tolerant species or cultivars and group them together to maximize irrigation efficiency?
  •  Do we avoid using plants that are invasive to wild habitats in our region?
  • Are we growing some of our own fruits and vegetables to minimize use of transportation energy?
  • Do we plant native plants that help support native birds, insects and other wildlife?
  • Have we converted part of our lawn into ornamental or vegetable gardens that use less water for irrigation?

Susie Savoie, another presenter at this year’s WDSG symposium, and co-founder of Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds, recently teamed up with native plant nursery consultant Tom Landis to publish “Native Pollinator Plants” (2016). Their guide provides lots of helpful information about using native plants to attract pollinators to our gardens. They describe native plants with early-, mid- and late-season flowering habits and specific pollinators these plants attract. Susie will discuss “Creating Pollinator Habitats” in an afternoon session at the symposium.

Check out all of the other classes aimed toward ecological gardening on the Jackson County Master Gardener Association website:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An assessment of my backyard’s feng shui

I’m not sure this is true, but I do know that feng shui principles include balanced use of the five natural elements: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. One way to assess our garden’s feng shui is to identify these elements and determine if they are in balance. Here’s an assessment of my backyard landscape according to this principle:

The fence and arbor provide wood elements, as well as tree trunks and branches and pine mulch. The trees and plants growing in healthy garden soil are earth elements that balance the wooden features. We inherited a rather unattractive concrete aggregate patio that I hope to replace someday with more of the natural slate pavers (another earth element) we’ve used to create a walkway that winds around the berms and down to the raised vegetable beds. We built a large raised bed with rocks (earth element) and three raised beds with wood. At first, the slate pavers were set in gravel, but they were too unstable, so we filled in with concrete. I tried to balance the concrete with earth elements provided by trailing and potted plants. The concrete rabbits and Japanese lantern are set among the berm plants to provide garden interest.

  The iron outdoor fireplace, patio furniture and lanterns provide metal elements to my backyard landscape, which are somewhat balanced by the wooden fence and stacked wood, as well as the Japanese maple and potted plants. The fireplace and candles also provide fire elements, as do the red flowers of the canna lily and pelargonium. To create more balance, I could add more fire and earth elements with colorful orange and yellow flowering plants and brightly colored pots.

Behind the outdoor fireplace is an unattractive area with decomposed granite that butts up to the 6-foot wooden fence. I’d like to built a deck here, balanced with plants and a hot tub (water element). Jerry rolled his eyes at me when I told him the hot tub was all about feng shui!

We have a dry creek bed that stretches from one side of the backyard to the other and down our sloping property to the back fence. The dry creek bed was built as a way to catch winter rainwater and channel it down to a swale at the bottom of the property. The creek bed is filled with river rocks and surrounded by planted berms that add earth elements to the landscape. However, the natural element that is missing from my backyard is the water element, which is now only provided by irrigating the raised vegetable beds and the berms. Adding a water feature and/or pond to the creek bed would be a great way to balance the earth and wood elements that are already there. Not only would the water enhance the beauty and feng shui of the landscape, the movement of the water would add a wonderful, tranquil sound to replace the noises that come along with living in the suburbs (passing cars, neighbors). I can’t wait to tell Jerry about this idea!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Register now for the 18th annual garden symposium

“A garden is half-made when it is well planned. The best gardener is the one who does the most gardening by the winter fire. ~ Liberty Hyde Bailey, (1854-1954), author and co-founder of the American Society for Horticultural Science

The 2016 Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium, hosted by the Jackson County Master Gardener Association, will offer something for all gardeners, whether they are new to gardening or to the Rogue Valley, have many years of gardening experience, or are part of the professional gardening community. Click here for a description of all of the classes offered at the symposium this year, as well as information about the impressive lineup of gardening experts who will be presenters.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Harvesting and seed saving

“The vegetable life does not content itself with casting from the flower or the tree a single seed, but it fills the air and earth with a prodigality of seeds, that, if thousands perish, thousands may plant themselves, that hundreds may come up, that tens may live to maturity; that, at least one may replace the parent.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)


Here’s my latest harvest of tomatoes and eggplant from the veggie garden. Now’s the time to pinch back tomato tips and flowers, which will encourage the plant to focus energy on maturing the remaining fruit. Also remove pepper and eggplant blossoms and small fruit.

It’s also time to collect seeds from your harvest and from ornamentals. Check out the burst seed pods and seeds on my showy milkweed!

Click here for some useful tips on saving seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange.

There will be more about seed saving at the annual Winter Dreams/Summer Gardens Symposium, hosted by the Jackson County Master Gardener Association. The symposium will take place on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, OR. For more information, visit the JCMGA website at

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Blazing Sunflower

Ah! Sunflower! Weary of time,

Who countest the steps of the sun;

Seeking after that sweet golden clime,

Where the traveller’s journey is done. ~ William Blake (1757-1827)

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) – natives of North and Central America – have affected people in different ways since they were first cultivated by Native Americans as early as three millennia ago. For example, the people of ancient Maya and Inca civilizations worshiped the sunflower as an earthly embodiment of the sun gods. The Inca built temples to honor their sun god, which were presided over by priestesses adorned with sun-shaped medallions and headdresses wrought with gold.

In Flora’s Feast (1889), English book illustrator, Walter Crane, portrayed the sunflower as a gilded priestess about whom he wrote, “The blazing sunflower, black and bold, burns yet to win the sunset’s gold.”

Kansas adopted the sunflower as its state flower in 1903, although many residents have long considered the sunflower a noxious weed because the native, multi-headed species grows rampantly throughout the countryside. But poet Ed Blair wrote “An Ode to the Kansas Sunflower” in 1901:

Oh sunflower! The queen of all flowers,
No other with you can compare,
The roadside and fields are made golden
Because of your bright presence there.

Famous painters, too, have been captivated by the sunflower. For instance, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) was an avid lover of sunflowers. For him, they represented light, renewal, and health. In a letter to his brother, Theo, in January 1889, Van Gogh indicated his satisfaction with the sunflower canvases he had been working on. He gave one of the pictures to Theo and wrote, “It is a kind of painting that rather changes in character, and takes on a richness the longer you look at it.” He also referred to the sunflower as a signature flower for his artwork: “You know that the peony is (Georges) Jeannin’s, the hollyhock belongs to (Earnest) Quost, but the sunflower is somewhat my own.”

Despite what Van Gogh told his brother, sunflowers were not exactly “his” flower, since King Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of France, had declared sunflowers his emblem 200 years earlier. Although Van Gogh never sold any of his paintings during his lifetime, in 2015 one of his “Sunflowers” canvases sold at Sotheby’s auction for $66 million. During the mid- to late-19th century, the sunflower became emblematic of the Aesthetic Movement, whose followers argued that art should be admired simply for its beauty – “art for art’s sake” – rather than for any loftier purpose, such as social commentary or political expression. For the Aesthetics, the sunflower’s simple beauty perfectly epitomized their philosophy.

Tragically, Van Gogh committed suicide not two years after finishing his sunflower paintings, at the age of 37.  “The Sunflowers are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece” by Martin Bailey (2013) tells the story of the legendary artist’s summer of sunflowers, and what happened to the seven still-life paintings after his death. “Sunflowers: A Novel of Vincent Van Gogh” by Sheramy Bundrick (2009) is a fictionalized account of the painter’s affair with a French prostitute to whom, according to police reports, Van Gogh sent his severed ear and asked to “Guard this object carefully.”

Perhaps one of the most widely read pieces of literature containing sunflower symbolism is “The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness” (1969) by Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who dedicated his life to tracking down Nazi war criminals after he was freed from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Wiesenthal wrote that he was haunted by his memories of sunflowers growing on top of the graves of German soldiers just outside the gates of the concentration camp. He imagined the sunflowers capturing the sunshine and channeling light down through the earth to the soldiers below. In contrast, Wiesenthal believed his destiny would be the same as that of his family and friends – one of the mass graves for Jews. He wrote, “For me, there would be no sunflower.”

On the other hand, Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), a leading figure of the 1960s counterculture movement, used a sunflower as a ray of hope in his famous poem, “Sunflower Sutra” (1955). Ginsberg vividly described a lone sunflower, “dead gray shadow against the sky,” and the way it symbolized an America that had become “crackly bleak and dusty with the smut and smog and smoke” of rampant commercialism. Despite its grime, however, Ginsberg expressed hope that the sunflower (society) could become beautiful again:

Unholy, battered old thing you were, O my soul, I loved you then!…

A perfect beauty of a Sunflower! A perfect excellent lovely sunflower existence!…

We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives,

We’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment…

Here are a few pictures of the blazing sunflower growing in my garden:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

My world with tomatoes

“A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins.” ~ Laurie Colwin

I harvested lots of tomatoes, bell peppers and onions this weekend, and Jerry made a killer salsa with all of it. I’ve always heard that vine-ripened tomatoes taste best, but I recently came across an article that cautioned against waiting until your tomatoes are a uniform red to pick because they may be a little over-ripe by then.

It turns out that it might be better to pick tomatoes when they are fully mature but still green, with just a little bit of color on the bottom where tomatoes first begin to ripen. Mature green tomatoes produce ethylene gas, which ages their cells and completes the ripening process. This occurs on the vine or off. Green tomatoes will ripen more quickly if they’re wrapped in newspaper and stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated space. Picking mature green tomatoes is especially useful for heavy tomatoes that often break off the vine anyway.

Another interesting fact: Did you know ripe tomatoes will sink? Try it and see!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
  • 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
  • Categories

  • Archives