Garden Notes : Around the garden
The full moon is on the 16th. Moving right along, the Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair is August 21-24. Read the program booklet for entering instructions; it has much other information as well. Entry forms should be turned in by the 18th.
My four-year-old grandson planted a potato in front of his house this year. It sprouted and seems to have flourished. I hope it is headed for the Fair. How many gardeners have looked at their gardens at some point over the course of the summer and muttered to themselves, if the Fair happened today, these [whatever] would have won the blue ribbon? Our spring broccoli was pretty good there for a while, the sweet peas too, and, right now, the Brandywine tomatoes, if we could only just freeze-frame them - my, the blue ribbons we all have won standing alone in the garden.
Of course, the Fair comes when it comes (not during the season of sweet peas - or only for the craftiest) and all gardeners must bow to its schedule, or not. Winning a ribbon at the Fair is not the main reason for gardens and gardening, knitting, sewing, baking, or all the other domestic and agricultural arts; it is also the encouragement and icing on the cake for otherwise satisfying and creative occupations.
While on the subject of the Fair, Polly Meinelt is no longer with us. For so many years a Fair fixture, she will be absent from the porch where she observed the comings and goings of the bustling throng. Together with Ted, she was a longtime supporter of all that makes our Fair beautiful and unique. May her spirit continue with us.
A flower that has always put me in mind of the Fair is echinops, probably due to years of quiet beauty in subtle and artistic arrangements done to decorate the hall in a closing-of-summer mood. Echinops ritro, also known as globe thistle (and also frequently confused with Eryngium - sea holly) is by no means solely an end of summer flower. Its stylish blue flowers - almost always characterized as steely blue - begin to color up in late June and early July.
While they continue on into August and even September, echinops could as easily be thought of as a welcome-to-summer component of red, white, and blue bouquets. Due to their somewhat everlasting nature, reminiscent of all strawflowers in their crinkly, straw-like or pointy texture, by late August many echinops flowers are still around and in good condition, or will be if cut and dried in a dry, warm place.
Photo by Susan Safford
Echinops, in the Compositaceae, is a plant well adapted to island gardens in that "poor, dry soil is quite suitable for all species," according to Allen Armitage ("Herbaceous Perennial Plants"), and many Island gardens are well supplied with that. Keep it lean for echinops. Given better soil it may become quite the thing, often exceeding the heights noted on the seed packet or pot tag; but one probably won't get more flowers.
In general the plants are about three-feet tall and thistly looking, although nowhere as dangerous as a Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense.) The foliage is typically deep green above and felty white below, clothing the stout, ridged stem at intervals until the stem branches at the top bear from three to nine ball-like composite flowers in the most surprising silvery deep blue. Stems with many flower heads may need staking.
There are several cultivars of echinops, with Taplow Blue being the old standby. Susan Silva introduced me to E. ritro Veitch's Blue by giving me some plants. I now prefer it to Taplow Blue; it seems more floriferous and daintier, bluer and shorter. Armitage also recommends E. ruthenicus (also formerly known as var. tenuifolius) for warmer gardens.
Echinops is a pollinator's heaven. You may see a diversity of bees, wasps, and moths you never knew existed crawling all over the blue globes, twitching with pleasure. With all this pollination going on, seedlings are a sure thing: deadhead to prevent unwanted offspring. After rainy or soggy weather, flower heads may actually be groomed, by gently teasing off the greyed-out fluff of individual flowers from the hedgehog-like balls, and returning them to the semblance of freshly opened ones for further serviceable time in the border.
Aspirin for citrus disease
A February news article (upi.com/Science_News/2008/02/11) concerns the use of aspirin to save Florida orange groves from a serious disease of citrus. The article reported, "A citrus grower in Orange County, Maury Boyd, is spraying thousands of his trees with nutrients, minerals and salicylic acid to help curb the spread of citrus greening across the Citrus Belt, the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel reported...
"Citrus greening, which includes yellowing of tree limbs or mottling of all or part of leaves, has been spreading throughout Florida orange groves for at least three years, scientists say."
The newspaper reported that scientists confirmed citrus greening in Boyd's grove in 2006. Pathologists now say that following the treatments, his trees are healthier.
"For two years, we've been proactive," Boyd said, adding that the salicylic acid he adds to the sprays could be a key to protecting his grove, as the newspaper reported.
Some of the effect of aspirin on plants has been known in research labs for about a decade. This is welcome news from the field, where Florida's groves are under great disease stress. Let's hope that other agricultural sectors or crops can be helped by this information.
Planting a tree
Before the planting season is over, and here, that is quite late into the fall depending on what you plant, plan to plant a tree. Not something pretty or colorful, not something to satisfy that impulse-shopping itch, but a real tree, for the future. It need not be large. Often you can find seedlings of oak, red maple, red cedar, and other Island trees by looking carefully around your property. Any of the Island garden centers will be happy to help you make a good choice in purchasing a tree. Tell your children or grandchildren about the tree and ask them to check on it when they visit.