Red-Free Holiday Decorations! by Susan Harris

Washington Monument Same-old holiday decorations, dominated by your basic Crayola red, give me the bah-humbugs faster than “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” on repeat play. So the holiday display that opened yesterday at the U.S. Botanic Garden is a relief and a respite for this perennial Scrooge because red seems to have been banished! The amazing plant-based replicas of DC icons are back, but this year they’re adorned with plants in white, pink, pale blue and mint green. U.S. Capitol Here’s a closer look at the signature plant repeated throughout the displays – the miniature Poinsettia variety ‘Princettia.’ I’m told they were all grown in the Botanic Garden’s own greenhouse, so I don’t know if they’re available commercially or not. (Anyone know?) Gotta have ’em! Lincoln Memorial A fun train display, also totally plant-based, is the other hot ticket at the USBG this time of year, and hallelujah, it’s red-free, too! That’s thanks to its dedication to our national parks, in celebr..
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Fresh from the farm? Not always a guarantee. by Elizabeth Licata

Matt Billings via Wikipedia Commons I love Thanksgiving. I love cooking the meal so much, that, though we’re always invited to friends, I buy a turkey and all the fixings anyway and cook it the next day. The ritual of mixing stuffing, wrangling the slippery bird, adding too much butter to the mashed potatoes, and figuring out the other sides is way too much fun to miss. Last year, I was very excited about purchasing a turkey from a local farm that ran a regular stand at our most popular outdoor market. The bird was a cross between a Bourbon Red and the common Broad-Breasted White, and you could immediately see the difference—as many of you have probably observed, heritage hybrids have more sharply projecting breastbones and just seem a bit bonier overall. After cooking, you find that the breast meat is more flavorful (it doesn’t taste like cotton, anyway) and that there’s a higher percentage of dark meat. My turkey cost as much as many entire TDay shopping bills, but people were lini..
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My Tiny Oak Forest by Allen Bush

Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn. –Ralph Waldo Emerson I’m not giving into global warming or to Donald Trump. I’m planting acorns. I won’t live to see my oaks grow into a thick forest canopy, but time’s a wasting. Regardless of the president-elect’s head-in-the-sand claim that he doesn’t believe in the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, there is little doubt that the earth is heating up. The president-elect has described the science as “bullshit” and a “hoax.” I’d be happy to show the president-elect how to sow acorns, even though he’s busy with plans to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and ease restrictions on coal powered plants. Even Kentucky’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who has criticized President Obama for his attempt to curb fossil fuel emissions, doesn’t think Kentucky’s coal production is going to pick up anytime soon. Simple economics: natural gas is cheaper. Shingle oak, Quercus ..
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Is it a Kissing Bug or a Leaf-footed Bug?

The Bug Chicks - A site for parents, teachers and bugdorks. Lately, we have received a few questions on our Facebook page asking about kissing bugs. Some people have sent pictures of insects that they suspect may be the insects that transmit Chagas Disease, a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan Trypanosoma cruzi that can range from mild symptoms to congestive heart filature later in life if left untreated. There must have been some kind of news report about them, because all of a sudden, we are being contacted by people who seem concerned. IDENTIFICATION HELP Here’s a pic from a fan named Jeremy, who found this true bug in Roanoke, VA. I asked if we could share this photo and walk people through how to identify if you’ve got a kissing bug or not. What Jeremy found is a leaf-footed bug. They DO NOT transmit Chagas disease. They eat plant juices and not animal blood. Below is a closer picture of a leaf-footed bug. One of the clearest characteristics that you can distinguish ..
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Cellar Holes by Thomas Christopher

I took a break from leaf clean-up the other day (one of the penalties I pay for my garden’s wonderful woodland site) and took a walk to enjoy the late fall woods. This presents a very different aspect at this season, for with the leaves all down, the interior of the forest is revealed. In particular, when I walk down an abandoned woods road, I can see the remains of no less than five old houses. There’s nothing left of these residences besides the cellar holes. These must have been dug by pick and shovel – a near impossible task in our boulder-rich soil. The floors of these former basements are earthen, and the sides are clad with beautifully laid, un-mortared walls. Many of the stones in these are considerable. I wrote in my last post about my own adventures with lifting stones; these are far larger than any I have attempted to budge. It must have taken a team of oxen to drag them to the site and a block and tackle to lower them into position. With nothing to hold them together othe..
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Sex Talk at the US Botanic Garden by Susan Harris

I returned last week to the U.S. Botanic Garden for another lesson in plant morphology, but this one was a bit sexier than the foliage talk I posted about here. This time, Dr. Susan Pell talked flowers and her audience quickly caught on that this talk would be R-rated. Early one a listener asked, “So is pollen filled with sperm?” Indeed! So we prepared for more sex talk as we followed Susan deeper into the bowels of the garden and were next told that fruits are “just developed ovaries.” But were we ready to digest the fact that some plants have “bisexual flowers?” And we hadn’t even gotten to the orchids yet. Did you know that they practice “pseudocopulation,” also known as “sexual deception!” You can’t make this stuff up. Above, Vanda coerulea is such a looker, I’m sure it has no problem deceiving those pollinators. Here Susan talks about a pink inflorescence from Calliandra emarginata, Pink Powder Puff. This strange-looking plant is called Cabbage on a Stick or Brighamia insign..
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#TBT: Top ten houseplants, according to me by Elizabeth Licata

From a local orchid show It’s houseplant time, at least in the northerly zones. So it seems like a good time to repeat this post from November 2008. I think I pretty much agree with this list, except maybe the sansevieria and the spathiphyllum, both of which I’ve gotten sick of. And I think I’d be tempted to move seasonal bulbs to #1. (I don’t know why I had African violets at #1. Maybe the order wasn’t in terms of preference—I do not remember.—Elizabeth This was requested in a comment to my recent Behind closed doors post, so I am obliging. But don’t expect any big surprises, or even much originality. There’s something about indoor gardening that breeds impatience. Even the most conscientious of us would rather not be bothered by too much fussing over our interior plants, no matter how long they have served well and faithfully. Here’s the key to my simple numerical rankings: Killability: 1 (You may as well compost this now)-5 (You could maybe kill this with boiling acid) Beauty: 1..
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The bad leaf advice—it’s baaack! by Elizabeth Licata

My leaves are not as pretty as this. It’s that time of year again—gardeners are getting silly advice from the Wildlife Federation and other nature-centric organizations about why they should try to leave their leaves in place to provide wildlife habitat and “natural mulch.” Many gardening columnists and Facebookers are picking up the NWF’s 2014 “Leave the Leaves for Wildlife” post and running with it—again. I won’t go into the reasons this is mainly BS for most gardeners, as Susan has already done a fine job with that in this post. (Suffice it to say she calls this “terrible, no-good gardening advice” and proceeds from there.) I am among the many gardeners who do not live in natural forest environments. I have a winding, urban garden surrounded by (mainly) big maples that dump big, fat mats of never-decomposing leaves all over my property in late November. These must be removed; they smother plants and soil and won’t be any easier to get rid of in spring. So I bag them up and leave m..
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Bulb-Forcing Videos by Susan Harris

Forcing spring-blooming bulbs is a popular topic here on the Rant, thanks to Elizabeth, our bulb-forcer extraordinaire. She inspired us at Good Gardening Videos to find videos demonstrating bulb-forcing to recommend to viewers – people like me who learn best by being shown. These 8 videos on the topic have been selected by our horticultural consultant, Carol Allen. “Forcing Bulbs in Glass Vases and Containers” by White Flower Farm. “Forcing Bulbs for Winter Color Indoors” by Planet Natural Garden Supply Co. in Bozeman, MT. “Spring Bulbs for Christmas” by Grow Veg in the U.K. Amaryllis “How to Plant Amaryllis” by Better Homes and Gardens. “Planting Amaryllis Bulbs” by Laura at Garden Answer. “Forcing Amaryllis Bulbs” by Central Texas Gardener. Paperwhites “The Secret to Growing Short Paperwhites” by Garden Answer. “Growing Paperwhites Indoors” by P. Allen Smith. Bulb-Forcing Videos originally appeared on Garden Rant on November 12, 2016.
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“Most Beautiful Bike Trail in the East” by Susan Harris

Need some calming images? I sure do, so I’m sharing a few from my glorious visit to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware last week, where I greeted this sunrise. I always rent a bike at the beach, then cruise around slowly, admiring the residential landscaping. But for this visit I took the advice of a long-time bicycler who told me he’d lived all over the U.S. and recommended the trail through Henlopen State Park as the most beautiful in the East. No argument here. It’s gorgeous and utterly flat – my kind of bike trail. None of the plants along the way are ones I’d seen in gardens. Along the way there are some historical landmarks, like Fort Miles, where I posed my rented bike for this shot. There are foot path options for when your butt needs a break from the bike seat. I passed this on the way to lunch in Lewes, a lovely historic town. The weather was grand, warm enough to lie on the beach or in my case, walk for miles, saying goodbye to the ocean for the season before coming home to the..
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