“Smoke gets in your eyes” so stay inside

“When your heart’s on fire
You must realize
Smoke gets in your eyes.” 
~ “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” American composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Otto Harbach for the 1933 musical, Roberta.

I realize this old show tune is not really literature. However, it has been around for a good long time, and at least 62 (so far) remakes of the song have been recorded from 1934 to 2014 by singers as diverse as Glenn Miller, Nat King Cole, Cher, Englebert Humperdink (not his real name), Barbra Streisand, Jerry Garcia, Freddy Mercury, Judy Garland, reggae artists Bryan Lee and the Dragonaires and  Zoot and Roulf from The Muppet Show.

One of my favorite renditions of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was performed by jazz artist, Patti Austin.

I feel relaxed whenever I listen to this golden oldie, but I’m anxious about all of the smoke in the Rogue Valley getting into my eyes when I garden. The other day, I ran my finger over the hood of my car, and it came up black with soot. That stuff isn’t just getting on my car, either; it seeps into the house and me.

If I’m going to be outside for awhile during smoky days, I protect my eyes with sunglasses and my lungs with a respirator that’s designed for smoke.

Plants have pores, too, called stomata, on their leaves and stems. Residue from wildfire smoke can clog a plant’s stomata and disrupt photosynthesis; that’s why it’s a good idea to wash off foliage that’s been exposed to extended periods of smoke, preferably in the morning so plants have time to dry off and mildew doesn’t have a chance to settle in.

Let’s face it – gardening in extreme heat and unhealthy air is not fun. It’s best to stay inside when the air quality is poor. Now is a good time to focus on harvesting all of those tomatoes and peppers that are becoming ripe, and to becoming a little more relaxed about weeding and deadheading. I’ve decided that I’m going for the natural look.

While I’m relaxing inside on a smoky day, what better song to play than “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”?

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Childhood memories of growing eggplant

“To this day, I cannot see a bright daffodil, a proud gladiola, or a smooth eggplant without thinking of Papa. Like his plants and trees, I grew up as part of his garden.” ~ Leo Buscaglia,”Papa My Father,” 1989

As I was growing up in Central Florida, I was part of my dad’s garden, too. He didn’t grow daffodils or gladiolas, but he did grow eggplant. This unusual vegetable (technically a berry) was my introduction into how the food I loved at the dinner table was grown and harvested outdoors (not at Winn Dixie). Helping my dad in the garden began a lifelong connection between the earth and my food that I have tried to pass along to my own children.

'Black Beauty' eggplant growing in my garden

Now I grow eggplant (Solanum melongena) in my own garden, and I particularly enjoy growing heirlooms that have a long history behind them:

  • ‘Black Beauty’ – introduced in the U.S. in 1902
  • ‘Long Purples’ – first recorded in U.S. in 1855
  • ‘Lisatada de Gandia’  – introduced in France in early 1850s
  • ‘Old White Egg’ – introduced in England in 1500s; this cultivar is why eggplant is called eggplant (now they are called aubergines in England)

I grow eggplants because they thrive in my hot backyard garden, they grow well in grow bags, they have pretty flowers and foliage, and I enjoy eating them grilled and in eggplant parmigiana (my dad’s recipe). In addition, eggplant is a nutritious and healthy food:

  • They contain antioxidants to fight cancer.
  • They are rich in manganese for healthy nerve functioning.
  • They are filled with dietary fiber for colon health.
  • They are low in calories (although my eggplant parmigiana is not).

Blossom drop

Other than some earwig damage early in the season, I don’t have much trouble with insect pests or diseases invading my eggplants. The biggest challenge I encounter growing eggplant is blossom drop due to intense heat. Triple-digit temperatures dry out the container soil quickly, and I have to be prepared to adjust the drip irrigation so the plants don’t become stressed. Eggplants need 2-3 inches of water every week, and it’s best to water thoroughly less frequently so the moisture reaches the deep roots of the plant.

Extreme heat also causes the flower’s pollen to become inactive because the stressed plant is trying to reduce the amount of energy it needs to support fruit. I can relate to this – when I’m stressed, I certainly can’t handle any new projects!  Providing shade for my plants during hot afternoons has helped reduce blossom drop, although I have had some casualties during our recent heat wave.

Even though I’m not 100 percent successful at preventing blossom drop, I will continue growing and learning about eggplant. Every time I cut an eggplant from its stalk and carry it

Homegrown purple eggplant and tomatoes

into the house, I think of my dad and the garden I helped him tend when I was a kid. It’s a memory that’s definitely worth a few setbacks along the way.

I found this beautiful memory of a garden with eggplants written by English novelist and poet, Doris Lessing (1919-2013). She wrote:

“The smell of manure, of sun on foliage, of evaporating water, rose to my head; two steps farther, and I could look down into the vegetable garden enclosed within its tall pale of reeds – rich chocolate earth studded emerald green, frothed with the white of cauliflowers, jeweled with the purple globes of eggplant and the scarlet wealth of tomatoes.”

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Lend a helping hand to your tall perennials

“He stands erect by bending over the fallen. He rises by lifting others.” – Robert Green Ingersoll, noted agnostic and politician (1833–1899)

In Sunday’s column (July 15, 2018), I wrote about the merits of staking vegetable plants: to prevent misshapen plants and broken stems, to reduce exposure to disease from the foliage or fruit touching the soil, to keep the plant from sprawling and crowding out other

Staked tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) in my vegetable garden

plants in the garden, and to save space by growing plants vertically.

Providing support is also important for ornamental gardens, preferably before our flowers have reached the point of falling over (surely a worthy goal to strive for!). There are many ways to stake plants, but I like to be as unobtrusive as possible by using bamboo stakes cut about five inches below the top of a mature plant and securing the flower stalks with soft, non-wire ties such as string or hook and loop tape – even old t-shirts or nylon knee-highs!

The key to effective staking is to have enough stakes and ties available, and to take the time to do the job right. I have been guilty of gathering a bunch of drooping flowerstalks and tying them all together – I call this the “bouquet in the garden” effect. Staking will look more natural if individual or small numbers of stalks are tied to the stakes Be sure to provide a bit of slack for natural movement, and tie the ends to the stake rather than the plant.

Louise Westrand emailed me about staking and offered some useful advice:“Regarding cage supports, you are generally right about them; however, I find them useful even in winter. I use them to mark the spot of a dormant perennial that I do not want to stab with a shovel thinking the spot could be planted. Also, I had a tiny seedling Quercus breweriana that I did not want to trample. I left a cage over it for several years until it was tall enough to be seen by me. Sometimes I leave it over a peony that is in a spot that usually does not have a peony. Admittedly, they look out of place, but they are sparing me from destroying a plant that I really want to keep.”
Louise asked me for a garden-related quote by Mark Twain, and I sent her this one: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Twain’s advise is perfect for our garden staking tasks!
Here are some of the flowers in my garden that need a little support from me, as well as a few tall plants with sturdy stems that don’t require staking:

My sea holly ( Eryngium maritimum) needs staking. I love the vibrant blue color!

Crimson double hollyhocks (Alcea) have to reach for the sunlight so they've grown more than 6 feet tall and need to be staked. The double hollyhocks are beutiful, but they are confusing to bees.

My sea holly (Eryngium maritimum) is more than 3 feet tall and top heavy.

My single pink hollyhocks (Alcea) are bumblebee magnets. Their stalks are sturdier than the crimson variety so I have not staked them.

Sweet pea flowers (Lathyrus odorata) are trellised a bit fancier at The Bard's Garden at Hanley Farm.

My purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) have thick, sturdy stems and don't require staking.

We all have them - plants that we grew from seed but we can't remember what they are! Here's one in my garden - I think it's a kind of daylily? This plant grows about four feet tall and needs to be staked every year.

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Marigolds: A case of mistaken identity

“Let who will praise and behold
The reserved marigold.”

~ “The Choice,”  George Wither (1588-1667)

English poet and satirist George Wither mentions many flowers in his poem, “The Choice”; however, there is no doubt that many 21st century gardeners consider marigolds to be the right choice for their flower beds.

In Wither’s day, marigolds were Calendula officinalis, which are natives of the Mediterranean and were first cultivated in England around the 13th century. Today, however, when gardeners mention marigolds, we are usually referring to various species of plants in the Tagetes genus, including African marigolds (T. erecta), French marigolds (T. patula), and signet marigolds (T. tenuifolia). Although there are marigold species native to Africa within the Dimorphotheca genus, our so-called African and French marigolds are actually natives of Central and South America. In Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, marigolds are placed at gravesites on All Hallow’s Day, November 1st, in memory of deceased loved ones.

Although the Tagetes species of marigolds bloom best with plenty of sunshine,  I’ve found that T. patula and T. tenuifoliaburn up in my flower beds that get hot afternoon sun. I plant mine in well-draining soil where they receive some afternoon shade, and in

Tagetes marigolds in pots on my patio.

containers that I can move around as needed. I water my container marigolds everyday, and the bedded flowers are on drip irrigation. I pinch back young plants in early summer to encourage branching, and I remove spent flowers during the growing season to promote more blooms.

Triploid marigolds are a multicolored hybrid of African and French marigolds. They tend to perform better in the heat, and do not set seed.  All marigolds are deer resistant and African marigolds, in particular, have pungent foliage that deters pests in the vegetable garden.

In late summer and fall, when many of my flowers are fading, I can count on my marigolds to brighten up my garden until frost. No wonder George Wither also observed:

“When with a serious musing I behold
The gradteful and obsequious margold
How duly every morning she displays
Her open breast when Phoebus spreads his rays…”

Check out the marigolds and other flowers mentioned in some of Shakespeare’s plays in The Bard’s Garden at historic Hanley Farm. Self-guided tours are available during Summer Sundays at the Farm from noon to 4 p.m. through Sept. 2 at 1053 Hanley Road in Central Point.

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Don’t let your veggies feel the burn!

“Never regret thy fall,
O Icarus of the fearless flight,
For the greatest tragedy of them all
Is never to feel the burning light.”
~ Oscar Wilde

In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the master craftsman, Daedalus, who constructed wings for his son from feathers and wax and warned him not to fly too close to the sun. Unfortunately, Icarus ignores his father’s instructions; he becomes overly confident and plunges into the sea and drowns after the sun burns his wings and melts all the wax. The myth sparked the saying, “Don’t fly too close to the sun,” and it may also have had something to do with the exercise expression, “Feel the burn.”

However, when it comes to our garden vegetable plants, we definitely don’t want them to “feel the burn” from fertilizer. This recently happened to my tomato and pepper plants when my daughter accidentally fertilized the leaves. Fertilizer burn can also happen if too much fertilizer is applied all at once, or the fertilizer is applied during a hot afternoon.

Fertilizer burn

The best way to treat fertilizer burn is prevention – read the label carefully and apply only the amount recommended for your plants. Fertilize in the morning when the temperature is  cooler, and be sure to apply the fertilizer with water around the root zone, avoiding the plant’s leaves and stems.

Treat fertilizer burn by removing damaged leaves, spraying off residue from the foliage and giving the soil a deep watering. It’s also a good idea to skip the next scheduled fertilizing session for over-fertilized plants.

By the way, summer temperatures are rising so wear your hat and sunscreen to avoid feeling the burn yourself.

New growth on pepper plant!

Happy gardening!

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Protect peppers from extreme heat

“I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.”Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1

Shakespeare mentioned pepper more than half a dozen times in various plays; however, it was most likely black pepper, the seed of Piper nigrum, that he was referring to. He often used pepper or peppered as a verb to mean doomed as in this passage from “Romeo and Juliet.”

I’m not growing black pepper in my home garden; however, I am growing several types of peppers in the Capsicum genus: : yellow and red sweet bell peppers, two

types of jalapenos, orange habaneros, cayenne, and one of the hottest peppers on earth, the ghost pepper (Bhut Jolokia).

Pepper plants, like tomatoes, will drop their flowers or fruit if daytime temperatures soar past 95 degrees F. The weather forecast says the Rogue Valley may be in for this kind of hot weather, so be sure to keep cover cloth or some other type of shade protection ready. I’ve set up a few umbrellas next to my peppers that I can easily open and close as needed.

I’ve already harvested a few jalapenos from my garden, and I want to share a delicious dish that my friend, James Davenport, created with them. James is a cook at

Jalapeno peppers in my garden.

Caldera Restaurant and Brewery in Ashland, and has also cooked at restaurants in Portland and New Orleans. His peppered pull pork tacos were the best I’ve ever eaten!

Peppered Pulled Pork


4 lbs pork shoulder

3 jalapenos sliced

1/2 cup red onion sliced

5 cloves of garlic chopped

5 strips of bacon

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. salt

3 tbsp. fresh cracked pepper


Rub pork in salt and and pepper. Cover in olive oil; top with garlic, onion and jalapeno and strips of bacon. Place in casserole dish, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cover casserole dish with tin foil and bake for 3 hours or until meat falls apart. Drain fat. Serve as taco filling, pork sandwiches, or protein with any side dish.

Peppered Pulled Pork with my jalapenos.

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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: https://medford-or.aauw.net/.

'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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