Poetry and Gardening

Musings from the days of a creative writer/gardener with a true appreciation for nature, meditation, and poetry.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Buddha in the Garden Moves to a New Location

Through the years, the Buddha that is the "logo" for this blog has moved from a three-bedroom Victorian-style house with glorious rose gardens (dozens of bushes) and a sunny cottage garden to a third-floor balcony garden overlooking a meadow where deer visited every night, and from there to a 1921 bungalow near the uptown area of a small Southern town.  Now that Buddha is sitting under my orange-red-green striped umbrella on the back patio pad of my new place, a townhouse ten minutes from downtown Durham.  No matter where he is, the Buddha is comfortable, but he's getting old and the paint is beginning to chip.  I love him even more than when he was new . . .

To celebrate the way this Buddha has enhanced each garden where he (and I) has lived, I've chosen to share a poem by one of the classic masters.  Simple, sweet, and natural.

All sentient beings are essentially Buddhas. 
As with water and ice, there is no ice without water; 
apart from sentient beings, there are no Buddhas. 
Not knowing how close the truth is, 
we seek it far away 
--what a pity! 
Hakuin Ekaku Zenji

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Dreaded Black Spot, Scourge of a Rosebush Life

This blog post is one of (I'm sure!) many I'll write in the near future, so if I don't cover something, shoot me a message, and I'll do a blog on it.

Roses.  I love them, but I've almost given up on roses several times because of the horrible infestations of Black Spot that my poor bushes would endure year after year.  At one point, I had 54 bushes, all types of roses, and I spent some serious money on hybrids and disease resistant breeds.  I hated seeing the first indication of Black Spot because I knew if I didn't spend a couple of hours a day hand-picking the leaves, then it would spread faster than butter in July.  You have to love roses to put up with their weakness to disease (and don't get me started about Japanese beetles).

Through the years, I found more than half a dozen sworn-by-the-expert cures but none of them truly worked with 100% efficiency and several made a serious dent in the checkbook.  And I've also discovered that weather can really be your enemy when you're trying to treat Black Spot.

There are a couple of things that have worked for me during the years, and one of them that I would normally recommend is something I just discovered is extremely toxic to animals, so I'm leaving that one off my list of suggestions.

Because the disease is spurred on by heat and humidity, Black Spot usually happens during the height of summertime, which means you get to enjoy your roses for about a month (where I live) before you see the first telltale signs.  If you know you might have the disease in some existing roses, it's a great idea to treat before you see the slightest signs of the disease.  Prevention includes making sure that the space where your roses are planted is clean of debris and that the roses have plenty of sunlight and breathing space.  If the bushes have grown since first planted and are now touching each other, Black Spot will spread like . . . well, the plague.

So, preventing Black Spot:
  • Plant roses at least 24" apart in holes that are three times the size of the root ball.
  • Ensure roses get sunlight most of the day and that they are watered regularly (Note:  everything can be argued, and I'm sure my sister will tell you that the roses she has out behind her house facing a very busy highway have been very successful thriving without any human help whatsoever).
  • Keep the ground around the roots of the plant clean of dead leaves and debris (Black Spot moves into the plant when the spores on the ground connect with the rose via ground water).
  • As soon as the bush starts to leaf out, spray the bush with a Baking Soda Spray (1 tsp baking soda, 1 quart water). Add a couple of drops of non-bleach detergent to the mix so that the baking soda will stick to the leaves.
  • Make sure that every leaf is sprayed, top and bottom.
  •  If the Baking Soda Spray doesn't work, check with the local greenhouse for Neem oil.
  • Watch the plants and clean, water, treat them at least every week, preferably every four days.
  • Caveat:  Some gardeners swear by a very strong fungicide, and you might want to try that, too, but I've tried to deal with this issue as naturally as possible.
Throughout the summer, continue this prevention program and make sure you trim/prune your bushes regularly so that you'll keep this disease (and others) at bay.

The point is to get roses that look like this:

~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~   ~~~***~~~

And this post's poem is, of course, about the beautiful rose.

'Asking for Roses' by Robert Frost

A house that lacks, seemingly, mistress and master, 
With doors that none but the wind ever closes, 
Its floor all littered with glass and with plaster; 
It stands in a garden of old-fashioned roses. 

I pass by that way in the gloaming with Mary; 
'I wonder,' I say, 'who the owner of those is.' 
'Oh, no one you know,' she answers me airy, 
'But one we must ask if we want any roses.' 

So we must join hands in the dew coming coldly 
There in the hush of the wood that reposes, 
And turn and go up to the open door boldly, 
And knock to the echoes as beggars for roses. 

'Pray, are you within there, Mistress Who-were-you? ' 
'Tis Mary that speaks and our errand discloses. 
'Pray, are you within there? Bestir you, bestir you! 
'Tis summer again; there's two come for roses. 

'A word with you, that of the singer recalling- 
Old Herrick: a saying that every maid knows is 
A flower unplucked is but left to the falling, 
And nothing is gained by not gathering roses.' 

We do not loosen our hands' intertwining 
(Not caring so very much what she supposes) , 
There when she comes on us mistily shining 
And grants us by silence the boon of her roses. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Deadheading Primroses

Recently, I experimented with various  plants in order to determine which would be a healthier plant if I did some old-fashioned deadheading.  Some worked well; others didn't.  I thought it might be a good idea to share info about primroses with those of you who love them as much as I do.
Primroses (Primula polyanthus) are an old-fashioned perennial that have enjoyed popularity for hundreds of years.  They are native to the Northern Hemisphere.  Over 400 species of the rosette-like plant exist both in the wild as well as cultivated in proper gardens, and one of the tricks primrose gardeners learn early is that their primrose bed will last much longer is properly deadheaded.

Deadheading Primroses
Tip: Make sure to sterilize your scissors or pruning shears before using them to deadhead your primroses.
Deadheading simply means grooming the plant. By removing the spent flower, you prevent your plant from going to seed, and allow it to mature. Cutting back the spent flower stems also encourages new growth, so you'll see fresh flowers. Once your plants have started to thrive, a simple walk around the garden several times a week allows you to see how your primroses are progressing and whether you might need to clean up the flowers that are spent.
·        Start checking your garden in late spring.
·        Carry a pair of scissors or a small pair of pruning shears in your pocket for the task. Some gardeners prefer to simply pinch away the spent flower between thumb and forefinger, but a set of scissors makes it easier to snip away the dead flower/leaves.
·        Wear rubber gloves since some people might be allergic to certain varieties of plants. It also curbs the spread of disease if your naturally oily fingers are protected. Certain floral diseases easily spread when our fingers flit from one flower to another.
·        Look for the flowers that have begun to fade or are drying out.
·        Reach down to the base of the flower stalk and hold the dead flower gently.
·        Bend the flower to expose the stem, then either pinch or snip the dead flower away from the plant.
·        It's a wise idea to carry a small bag or wear an apron and drop the dead flower in the bag/apron rather than on the ground. You can dump your deadheaded materials into a recycling pile when you're done with your task.
·        Because too much water will rot primroses, check them occasionally and clip off any yellow or rotten lower leaves you see around the base of the plant. Removing rotten leaves promotes new growth. Your primrose bed might seem a bit droopy after you deadhead and trim old growth, but you will be rewarded when new buds start to arrive.
·        If primroses get too wet, they can develop conditions like crown or root rot and garden bugs, like aphids or spiders, may attack the plants.
Once your plants stop blooming, pull the primroses from the ground or your pots and put into containers until fall. The best soil is gritty and humus-rich. Keep your containers in a sheltered spot and keep the plants moist but not wet.
Growing Primroses
You can grow primroses from seed or purchase your plants from a grower.  If you choose to grow them from seed, be aware that the seeds are exceptionally small and it is difficult for the novice gardener to be successful starting these plants from seed.
Most primula varieties flower reliably and are easy-to-grow. Plant them in sun or partial shade and make sure to choose an area or pot that provides good drainage.  Primroses don't like to be wet!  If you can shelter them, you'll have very happy plants.
Offering your plants liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks or so will encourage them to produce fresh buds and create a beautifully flowering plant. 
Most of the 450+ species of the genus primula like cooler weather and will not tolerate midsummer heat. They come in every color of the rainbow and the species names span the alphabet.
The varieties are distinguished by their rosette of leaves that resemble the leaves of a head of lettuce. In the center of the rosette are the flowers. Each flower has five petals joined at the base.  Flowers appear on leafless stalks. Common colors include white, red, blue, yellow, purple, and cream, but some species also produce bi-colored flowers.
Many poets have written about the beauty of primroses, but this one is my favorite:  
"My Primrose" by Joseph Horatio Chant

My sweet primrose with thy open face,
And with fringe-like leaves, without a trace
Of coarseness, either in flower or stem,
Among all my plants thou art the gem.
My lovely lilies soon disappear;
Thy bloom is constant through all the year;
In summer's heat and winter's cold,
Undimmed the light of thy floral gold.
Or if thy color be pink, or blue,
Or white as snow, thou art ever true;
My room is bright with thy smiling eyes,
And thy fragrance rare I also prize.
Thou hast done thy part, my little pet--
Let me keep thy roots forever wet,
But guard with care all thy tender leaves
And growing crown, which the earth-crust heaves.
Thou dost heaven-ward tend, aspiring high,
To kiss the stars in the vaulted sky,
And they look down from the azure blue,
My sweet primrose--they are smiling, too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Gardening Advice: Getting rid of flying ants

Quick Tips to Get Rid of Flying Ants
By Dawn Reno Langley

Most ants crawl, but some varieties fly, and those might get into your hair, your food, and your trash, but some are far more damaging than irritating. Getting rid of the pesky creatures is fairly easy if you know how—and if you can determine what type of flying ants you have.
Types of Flying Ants
Before you bring out the pesticide spray to get rid of those pesky flying ants, take a closer look to determine what type of bugs you have. According to University of Florida entomologists, several characteristics make it easy to distinguish termites from flying ants. Because there are dozens of types of carpenter ants, some of which fly, gardeners and home owners should look at the features that are easiest to identify. The University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program offers excellent graphics of the differences between termites and ants, which include:
·        Wings:  Termite’s wings are equal length; flying ants wings are longer in the front and the rear set of wings is half the size.
·        Waists:  Ants have a constricted waist and termites have a broad waist.
·        Color:  Ants are dark; termites are a lighter color.
Where They Live
Ants nest in debris or foliage around a building’s foundation, but they also can build nests in small cracks or holes anywhere in a building. If you find them inside your home, it is a good idea to determine whether the flying creatures you see are, indeed, flying ants or whether they are termites. Carpenter ants damage wood structures almost as effectively as termites, and the easiest way to see whether your building is home to them is to scrutinize the area around your siding and walls for little trails of sawdust.  Those trails indicate there’s a nest nearby.  Whether it’s a nest of termites or carpenter ants, you must be proactive.
When You Find Them
If you discover flying ants during the summertime, there’s a good chance they just happened to get inside because your house/building is more open during that season. If it’s wintertime, chances are they’ve nested in your building. Flying ants are not active in the winter. Termites tend to swarm around rotting or moist wood, and if you see them inside, you might have an infestation. If you determine you have termites, call a pest control company. If you have flying ants, you can take steps to handle the infestation yourself.
Protect Your Garden and Buildings
1.      Trim bushes and low shrubs that hug the foundation of your building.
2.      Keep mulch at least a foot away from siding.
3.      If possible, create a cement barrier at the base of your building.
4.      When building fences or decks, choose a termite-resistant material.
5.      Keep structures dry and well-ventilated.
6.      Remove piles of wood or debris from the area.
7.      Repair any cracks or holes in your building.
Removing the Ants/Termites
·        Contact a professional termite control company if you suspect you have a termite infestation. They are licensed to use the correct pesticide to rid your building of the damaging pests.
·        Use over-the-counter pesticide baits if you have flying ants in your garden/building.
·        Make a natural pesticide bait with borax and sugar.  Mix evenly and leave a small dish of the mixture near the nest. Clean frequently.
·        Be careful to follow instructions.
·        Peppermint spray is a natural remedy for flying ants. Mix peppermint oil (purchase at your local natural food store) with dish detergent and water in a spray bottle.  (One part soap, two parts water, several drops of peppermint oil).  Shake well and spray.
·        Spray dish soap on the ants. The heaviness of the soap weights down their wings, bringing them to the ground where they will die.
·        Pesticide sprays tend to scatter ants, thus bait traps are more effective.
·        A bug zapper works on most flying insects by luring the bugs into it, then electrocuting them.
·        Carpenter ants are stubborn and may not succumb to baits. Check with a professional if the bait traps don’t appear to be successful.

Today's Poem -- About Ants


Ravi Shankar

One is never alone. Saltwater taffy colored 
beach blanket spread on a dirt outcropping 
pocked with movement. Pell-mell tunneling,  

black specks the specter of beard hairs swarm, 
disappear, emerge, twitch, reverse course 
to forage along my shin, painting pathways 

with invisible pheromones that others take 
up in ceaseless streams. Ordered disarray, 
wingless expansionists form a colony mind, 

no sense of self outside the nest, expending 
summer to prepare for winter, droning on
through midday heat. I watch, repose, alone.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Coming Back to the Earth

When all else fails, I come back to the earth.  Sadness looms, and I dig my fingers into the dirt.  Pull a couple of weeds.  Plant some bulbs.  Inhale the deepest, reddest rose I can find.  Look into the pale blue sky and find the black brushstroke that is a swallow and watch it flit through its universe until it disappears.  Nothing works better than the garden for taking away pain and anguish and despondency.

On the converse, nothing works better than gardening when you want to relish the happiness you might feel.  Watch a bearded lily unfold, rejoicing in its ability to reach for the sun, and you can open up your own heart and feel the beauty of nature.

It's deep spring again in North Carolina, and the flowers I planted in the garden last spring are blooming or beginning to bud.  The jonquils are long gone, the lilies starting to peter out, the roses in the garden at the empty house across the street are in their first blush.  Daisies are rising from the ground and gardenias becoming their glossy, forest green.

This part of the year reminds me of the reason why so many great poets write about nature, so I offer another to you here.  This one is a simple yet profound statement on the season by e.e. cummings.


Spring is like a perhaps hand 
(which comes carefully 
out of Nowhere)arranging 
a window,into which people look(while 
people stare
arranging and changing placing 
carefully there a strange 
thing and a known thing here)and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps 
Hand in a window 
(carefully to 
and fro moving New and 
Old things,while 
people stare carefully 
moving a perhaps 
fraction of flower here placing 
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Balcony Gardens

It's funny that I'm coming back to this blog now that I have no garden and now that we're just finishing what I HOPE will be the last snow of the season, but here I am and I hope to continue, even though it'll be different from my previous blogs

I've moved from my home where I had planted hundreds of bulbs, trees, and countless seeds.  I think about those gardens now, and I could probably tell you exactly what's in bloom at this very moment.  The irises are starting in the rear gardens and beside the garage.  Jonquils are probably just about gone in the back garden.  And the roses are starting to get leaves.  There will be lots of new shoots coming out of the beds in the front under the porch and within the next couple of weeks, when people go by the house, they'll slow down to see the kaleidoscope of colors.

And I will never have the pleasure of tending those gardens again.

Yes, I'm sad, but I am continuing to plant flowers.  This time, though, they will all be on baskets that hang on my porch at the apartment I now call home.  And I hope to add some orchids for inside the house, as well.

So, things change, but they remain the same.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Travel: Other People's Gardens

On a recent trip to London, I found myself looking in people's front/back yards and visiting as many gardens as possible.  I'd been there before, so I was familiar with the larger gardens (the Kew, for example), but this time, I thought about those smaller spaces that city people fill with whatever plants will fit.  Londoners are good at this.  Some windowsills overflowed with ivies and pansies, even though I couldn't see evidence of a windowbox.  Outside front doors, baskets of petunias added some bright colors to normally dingy brick buildings.  Pubs were especially cheery with hanging baskets, and roses bloomed in every square foot at the base of stairs leading into apartment buildings and offices.  But my favorite place was Kensington Gardens.

We walked from Buckingham Palace through Green Park (where we sat in deck chairs to watch streams of people passing by -- they charge for the deck chairs, but on a hot day in London, we happily paid the one pound five pence).  Then we wound our way down along Bayswater Road, enjoying the vendors with their artwork and admiring the stately hotels on the other side of the street.  At Hyde Park, we competed with groups of people who had come to the park for the triathlon being held that day.  Every major throughway was roped off so that bicyclists and runners could make their way to the end of the race and the tents set up near the Serpentine.  We sat at the Serpentine Restaurant for pizza and Cokes, watching Londoners in paddleboats on the lake before continuing our journey.

Little did we know how long our walk was, but by the time we reached Kensington Palace, we were ready for some cold drinks and rest.  It was the perfect place to sit for a moment.  Princess Diana's favorite place and her home while in London, Kensington is a smaller Palace, but no less stately than some of the others in England.  The gardens are formal, Italian in design, yet they have whimsical elements brought in by Queen Victoria and enjoyed by Diana herself.  When we were there, archways leading to the gardens, were alive with what appeared to be grapevines, and the gardens bloomed in hot pinks, reds, yellows, and deep purples. 

Of all the parks in London, this appeared to be the most family-friendly, probably because of the playground area built to memorialize Diana in 2000.  Because it was such a nice day, the area was full of happily-screaming kids climbing all over the pirate's ship and shimmying like eels over and around the other structures in what appeared to be the best public playground I've ever seen.  (We were not with children, so didn't get to explore in detail.)

Today's poem celebrates English gardens:

English Garden by Bernard Shaw

My love for an English garden,
It knows no bounds.
I will never have to ask for pardon,
As I stroll these lovely grounds.

Many are the shrubs, bushes and flowers,
They fill my heart with joy.
Here I have spent many happy hours,
For most of the flowers are shy and very coy.

Hollyhocks abound in every colour and hue,
Great delight I find in every nook and cranny.
A few of the flowers are for me new.
Most of the names I was taught by my dear Granny.

I have wandered around gardens of all kinds,
In most parts of this wonderful Earth.
There is something in a garden that my soul binds,
Nature shares with me every new birth.

But in an English garden such as Kew.
Gardeners put on a wonderful show.
That refreshes me through and through,
As I am sure it will you if you take the trouble to go.