The Humble Gardener At University of Illinois Extension, our volunteers are at our core. Hear their voice on this volunteer driven blog. Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/rss.xml Garden Struggles https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13682/ Fri, 16 Nov 2018 15:16:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13682/
The fellow next to me glanced at my book. "You like to garden?" he asked. I nodded. He shook his head. "I tried to garden but I didn't have no luck," he said. I murmured something that was supposed to sound commiserating. "My dog dug up my flowers and the deer got my vegetables," he continued. As he continued his garden saga, I found myself feeling quite sorry for the guy because he obviously had put a lot of thought and effort into his garden; to have little or nothing to show for it would be disheartening. (I thought it best not to venture my opinion that the dog probably had a fine time digging and the deer no doubt appreciated the addition of fresh veggies to their diet. Sometimes I amaze myself that I can keep my mouth firmly closed.)

I started thinking of all that can go wrong in the garden. Obviously deer are difficult to control but I have seen people use fences to good advantage when gardening in deer country. It isn't a foolproof solution and it takes a lot of effort, so it isn't the easiest of solutions.

Keeping dogs out of the garden is difficult. I have found that accompanying our dogs outside can be an effective deterrent to their tromping through the garden. Oh, who am I kidding? I yell at them and they blithely go where ever they feel like going, unmindful of the plants. We always put pots around the seedlings but size 13 paws generally are not deterred by little pots. I do intervene when one of the dogs gets overzealous and begins digging in the soft dirt of a freshly planted shrub or tree- me screaming like a banshee and the dog digging away, totally unperturbed by my hysteria. My heart went out to my companion and his bad dog.

I thought about this past season and the goofs that Chip and I had, even after gardening for over 30 years. We put an electric fence around the pear trees and still found the majority of the crop on the ground INSIDE the electrified area. The varmints eat only until they reach the seeds and throw three-quarters of the pear away. This is an annual occurrence but it still is maddening to see the waste. I would gladly cut the seeds out for them if given the chance. Guess I have to learn "Squirrel" to communicate with the destroyers.

I thought about the sweet potato crop that was decimated twice by visitors. We expect some plant loss from the animals that we share our backyard with; the sight of the entire green plant, cut and placed undisturbed in the row, makes us shake our heads in disbelief. Obviously, the culprit didn't want the plants. Perhaps it was a gang initiation to see how many plants could be decimated in a day? Replanting resulted in pretty much the same outcome, except we did manage to grow a few plants and actually get a tiny crop with the second planting.

The tomatoes, despite our diligent planting and pruning, bore sporadically and most never really got very big. Then the blight hit, and even planting many varieties and choosing plants that were strong and healthy didn't prevent the plants from failing.
The melons that Chip planted happily took over the garden, wrapping around each other in reckless abandon. We realized that some of the melons were actually from last year, germinating from seeds that were overlooked when we cleaned the gardens last fall. These crossed with some acorn squash and we had huge, beautiful "squalon" or, if you prefer, "melash". Whatever you call them, a squash/melon mix is not at all tasty and they ended up in the compost pile. Even the visitors to the compost pile turned their beaks and noses up at the new creation. I couldn't blame them.

The Amtrak delay ended and so did my seat mate's sad gardening story. I gave him a hearty pep talk to encourage him to try again next year. He didn't seem too enlightened by my enthusiasm. In fact, I believe I detected a look of relief on his face when I finally stopped talking. I reopened my gardening book and, as the train plummeted down the tracks, dreamed of next year's garden-the one where everything blooms abundantly. The best gardens are always the ones in a gardener's imagination.
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The Sweetness of Fall Gardening https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13641/ Mon, 15 Oct 2018 09:16:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13641/
For some reason, even though it is October, some hibiscus have decided to bloom. We all stop to admire them; perhaps the absence of Japanese beetles permitted the blooms to finally develop. I continue on to the green beans while the kittens sample the hibiscus. At the top of the bean poles, I find enough beans to use in a stir-fry or a breakfast omelet. I finish dropping the beans into a basket, remove one of the kittens, and we all continue down the path to the peppers. Some flowers still bloom on the plants and some small peppers still need to grow; I pick the bigger ones and leave the rest to their frosty fate.

The Brussels sprouts attract the kittens' attention. A light frost will make the sprouts sweeter so I ignore them and lure the kittens away by going to the eggplants. Two eggplants! Into the basket, they go. The kittens have been distracted by the dill that has escaped from the herb garden. I start to pick it. Chip came up with a neat idea for having herbs all winter long. He cuts a piece of half inch PVC pipe and sterilizes it. We pick whatever herb we want to preserve, dip it in boiling water briefly and then ice water, and drain it well. Then he puts a piece of plastic wrap on the counter and we put the herbs on the plastic. He places the pipe at the end and slowly rolls the plastic wrap while I add more herbs. The roll is labeled and popped into the freezer to be used throughout the winter. This system works great because it doesn't take up much room in the freezer and we don't waste the herbs that we have nurtured all summer. As I pick the dill, I see a black, green, and yellow caterpillar. It isn't moving but it clings to the fronds of the dill plant. I am surprised to see a caterpillar in October. We have a ventilated butterfly container so I go in to get the jar. Then, realizing that I will need dill if I want the caterpillar to have something to eat, I go back to pick more dill for him/her. Another surprise awaits: a second caterpillar is munching away on some dill further down the path. Two sturdy twigs, some freshly picked dill, and the two caterpillars go into the container. I have no idea if the caterpillars can survive a frost but returning them to the garden after some research is easy.

I interrupt my picking to examine the rest of the dill. We are not gardeners who mind if flowers or herbs escape their designated areas. The dill is particularly invasive so my search takes me down the garden path's end. I don't find any more caterpillars but the fall carrot crop beckons me. Perhaps some of the late swallowtail caterpillars will be on the carrot tops. The search yields no caterpillars, even though the kittens stalk each row diligently. I let them think they are helping.

Back in the house, I shut the kittens up and get out the paraphernalia to finish the last of the apples. Chip has stolen an idea from YouTube which involves using a drill and a paddle bit to peel the apples. It is amazingly effective. A bit of snacking makes the peeling and coring pleasurable. My job is to take the peeled apples, core them, wash them and cut them into the cooking pot. Within a few hours, the apples are cooked and canned applesauce, flavored with chai spices and gleaming in pints on the kitchen counter. We are done canning for the season.

As I pick up the peels that have flown off the table during Chip's drill peeling-a small price to pay not to have to peel each apple individually-the kittens return. They have a riotous session of pouncing on the apple peels. I manage to get most of the peels despite the kittens' presence and sneak out the door to the compost pile while my oblivious helpers subdue any missed peels.
At the end of the day, the caterpillars have warmed up and happily munch on their dill dinner. Chip and I enjoy fresh, warm applesauce while we research the metamorphosis of swallowtail butterflies. And the kittens sleep the sleep of the just after their arduous gardening and canning activities.
Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.
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Garden Patch Fliers https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13584/ Thu, 13 Sep 2018 09:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13584/ I am supposed to be weeding. It is a mystery to me that the weeds are so high when we have had less than two inches of rain all summer. As I halfheartedly tug at the weeds, an avian soap opera unfolds around me.

The sunflowers are fading quickly but there are still a few seeds on them to entice a couple of finches. The yellow of their feathers as they flit between the heads of the sunflowers offers colorful glimpses of their progress. Joining them is a father cardinal, who adds his brilliant crimson to the mix. There is a little guy with Papa C, who obviously is learning the ropes. The finches hang upside down on the seed heads and pluck seeds where I would swear there were none left. The cardinal family moves to another section of the sunflowers and the lesson begins. Mama C arrives to supervise. It's nice to see the two families sharing the food source without fighting. I make a note to fill the sunflower feeder when I am done weeding to supplement the fading sunflowers.

Nearby, we have planters of petunias intermixed with a hummingbird feeder. Life is not as cordial among the hummers, unfortunately. One guy likes to come to the feeder, circles it to make sure no one is lurking, grabs a quick sip, and returns to his sentry duty in a nearby pear tree. Unsure that there really is no one at "his" feeder, he swoops again and finds no interlopers. Soon another hummer visits the petunias, grabbing some nectar from the blooms and meandering towards the feeder of sugar water. Hummer #1, aka "The Bully", swoops into the flight path and chases the second hummer away. The second hummer returns and the drama is repeated. I see a flash of orange and notice a monarch attracted to the petunias but the bully isn't sharing with her, either. I am starting to get irritated; we have nurtured our milkweed all summer and maintained many nectar plants to attract the butterflies. The bully is not perturbed by my irritation. This, apparently, is his garden. I wish he would share the weeding.

A family of geese swims by and stops to see if my husband is around. I know this sounds fanciful, but I think they are some geese who lived with us. A couple of years ago, the lake flooded its bank and the geese who nest here every year were forced to abandon their nest. A neighbor helped us rescue the eggs and Chip put them in an incubator. They hatched and we found ourselves the reluctant parents of three geese. They were too little to go out on their own so we would take them out in the garden with us. One day, a goose family swam by, and the adults were very interested in our amateur gardeners. We were hopeful that the goose family might adopt our three orphans. The visits continued for a couple of weeks, and finally one day one of the adults came ashore and bobbed its head to Chip. He gently herded the three babies towards her and they went off for a swim. We were elated that the birds had returned to the wild, but as the sun began to set, the babies returned to us. This went on for a couple of weeks and then finally, one night, the babies did not return. We would see the blended family swimming nearby and were thankful that the kids had been adopted. But each summer, small goose groups gather near our dock and spend a lot of time looking up at the garden. We like to think the three babies are bringing their families by to see the old home place.

I remember that I am supposed to be weeding and return to that onerous task. I have been watching three caterpillars that are living on the parsley. We plant extra every year and the swallowtail butterflies lay eggs. As I move to check if the cats are still on the plant, I see a beautiful black swallowtail fly by. Its colors are pristine and its wings are perfect. I am sure it is one of the newly hatched butterflies. All the caterpillars are gone from the parsley so hopefully they have all managed to survive.

I am having a grand time in the garden even though I am not getting much weeding done. Another distraction is provided by a kingfisher who has caught a fish and is whacking it against the top board of my neighbor's dock. It is a fierce contest but the fish loses this round.

Happily it is time for a break so I move to the house to tell Chip about the morning's excitement.

Weeds can wait. They aren't going anywhere.

Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.


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The Grapes Are Ready! https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13530/ Tue, 14 Aug 2018 15:42:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13530/
I flashed back to being nine years old. My grandfather made wine for each of his six kids' families every year. To him, and his kids, wine was mother's milk. Papa had a room in his basement where the winemaking equipment lived. He would have us grandkids milling about when it was time to crush the grapes. Inside the vat of grapes was a pair of white boots. A grandchild would be lifted into the vat, feet inserted into the boots, and he/she would stomp around on the massive pile of grapes. When the grandchild started to tire, he would be lifted out and another kid inserted into the boots. We viewed it as an honor. My grandfather viewed it as cheap labor. Fortunately for him, the grapes were crushed before he ran out of grandchildren.

As we picked the gorgeous purple grapes, I asked Chip what we were going to do with them. We already had grape jelly from last year's crop. We rarely drink wine so I was startled when Chip enthusiastically described the delicious wine we would be enjoying in six months. We picked on, and soon we had two five gallon buckets brimming with grapes.

Into the kitchen we went to begin the process of washing and stemming the grapes. It is a mindless task, and my mind drifted to the basement of my grandfather when it was time to see if the wine was ready to drink. My grandmother was the arbitrator of good taste. She would take the small glass from Papa and sip it. We who had gathered stood with bated breath waiting for her pronouncement. If she said the wine "wasa no good" (not ready), back into the cool room it went without argument from my grandfather. It was the only time he listened to her without arguing.

As we finished the stemming, Chip explained the process he would use to make the wine. He had spent a lot of time on YouTube watching winemaking videos. He also had picked the brain of the nice owner of Somethings Brewn' in Galesburg who provided sage advice along with yeast and other winemaking equipment. The next step was crushing the grapes. Unfortunately, we had no resident grandchildren nor did we have any boots, so we began the process of crushing using a Rube Goldberg contraption of pots and strainers, which worked pretty well. I mentioned that we should extract the grape seeds and make grape seed oil. Chip's astonished face left me laughing helplessly until he figured out I was joking. I may regret planting the idea, though.

A week later, Chip told me the green grapes were ready. Our picking filled two five gallon buckets. The grapes held the warmth of the afternoon sun as I placed them in a bucket of water to begin the cleaning and stemming process. I pondered the lack of predators; the purple grapes had been attractive to the local birds but apparently the green ones blended into the leaves well enough that they were not interesting enough to our avian friends. I tried to be grateful for the bounty.

Now I realized that we would have red wine and white wine. Lots of it, judging from the huge volume of juice the crushed grapes yielded. Chip happily bore the juice to his winemaking cave. I washed the sticky bowls and pondered how many friends we had who would welcome a bottle of homemade white or red. Not nearly enough to get rid of the wine before next summer's grapes needed picking. Maybe I could plan a meeting of the cousins and dump-uh, share-the wine in memory of Papa and his excellent wines. They probably would enjoy sipping wine they didn't have to stomp grapes to make. The wine should be ready around Valentine's Day if all goes well. If it doesn't go well, we will gift the cousins-with vinegar. White or red. It's one way to share our bounty.
Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.
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Gardening: Cheaper Than Therapy and You Get Tomatoes https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13485/ Mon, 16 Jul 2018 09:29:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13485/ Chip and I sit on the shaded deck, holding fat homemade steak sandwiches on Turano Italian rolls stuffed with homegrown peppers, onions, tomatoes and herbs. We both are filthy. We have spent three hours picking black raspberries. This is the fourth picking, the last of the lot for this year. Heat indexes in the 90's has made this picking unpleasant, but berries don't wait for cool weather to ripen.

There is an art to picking raspberries that we have developed over the years. Because Chip is taller and has longer arms, he picks the top of the bushes and any bunches of berries easily seen. I follow behind and cull the lower branches. This is where the plumpest, juiciest berries often are. From time to time, I pop one in my mouth (strictly for quality control purposes). The juice bursts in my mouth and entices me on to other plants.

Somehow, despite our tag team approach, we still manage to miss some berries. The plants are visited by Japanese beetles and other flying insects. The beetles are on the berries like frat boys at a beer keg. I take great delight in flicking the beetles off the plant. They depart in a cluster when flicked, plus they are discombobulated. That is my goal. I generally am kinder to insects, following the tenet that we all have to make a living, but I can't find it in my heart to be friendly towards the beetles. Their reckless destruction of the hibiscus, green beans, and milkweed blooms, among myriad other plants, makes me crazy. The beetles get revenge by dive bombing me as they escape. Have I mentioned these guys drive me nuts?

As we eat, we have a clear view of the cucumbers vines, seven feet tall and covered with flowers. I mention to Chip that I checked the vines yesterday and there were no cukes. He immediately points out four cukes. From our seated vantage point, we spot cukes that we haven't seen when we walk by. I am convinced that I turn around and a tiny cuke bursts into a huge specimen. The gardener in me knows that this is impossible but it seems to occur on such a regular basis that I continue to consider this as a definite likelihood. Nature does a fine job of hiding green cukes amongst green leaves. I remind myself to sit more often and look more carefully as I begin to plan a tomato, cucumber, and shallot salad with raspberry and olive oil vinaigrette for supper.

The yellow of the summer squash is much easier to see, although these, too, seem to balloon overnight into full grown squash. Now the kale is yielding daily pickings and the four eggplant plants offer their purple glossy beauty in stark contrast to its green leaves. I can't wait for dinner time.

"The garden is cheaper than therapy, and we get tomatoes" is a meme a friend sent me. Now that the planting work is done and we are merely maintaining by weeding and watering, picking the produce is the fun part of vegetable gardening. We see a print in the corn patch soil and note that someone has been helping himself to corn. I think it was a cat but Chip shows me why it's a raccoon's paw print. Plus most cats aren't big corn eaters. We pick eight ears that vary in readiness and hope the coons find something else to eat. Optimism reigns as we leave the garden.

Back in air conditioning, we take the black raspberries off the stove where they have been simmering. They get dumped into a cotton jelly bag and hung over a pot so the juice from the berries will fall into it. Tomorrow we will cook the last batch of berries and begin the jelly making. There is a therapeutic restfulness in the process of picking, juicing, and the actual making of black raspberry jelly. The eating of jelly on Chip's homemade bread is a treat that makes the hours picking in stifling heat totally worth it.

Sometimes we ask each other if we should start making our vegetable gardens smaller. The work is intensive in spring and early summer. But when we look at the time outside getting exercise doing worthwhile garden tasks, the variety of vegetables that we grow, and the play time afforded the kittens (yes, they are still living with us wreaking havoc), we feel extremely lucky to have the space to grow a garden and the energy to care for it. Plus we don't have to see a therapist AND we get tomatoes. And where else would the coons get fresh sweet corn? Guess we'll keep on keeping on and hope for fewer visits from beetles, coons, and kittens.
Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.
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A Tale of Two Kitties https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13441/ Tue, 19 Jun 2018 09:19:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13441/ If you live in western Illinois, you know that this has been a strange planting season. First, we went from winter to summer in about twenty minutes, or so it seemed. While waiting to have favorable conditions to plant out seedlings we'd started in February, we had to transplant many of the plants to larger containers. Instead of being able to be outside caring for the seedlings, we kept them sheltered on the deck to harden them off as we waited for warmer weather. And waited. And waited.

In the midst of tending to the seedlings, a feral cat decided that she would have two kittens. Chip thought we could tame her down and find a home for her and he was sure we could definitely socialize the kittens and find them a home as well. You would think after 38 years with this man that I would know better than to listen to this plan. No animals that Chip says we are "letting stay for a while" have left our house. So I wasn't surprised that Mama Cat took a powder after weaning the little ones and the kittens became our house guests/residents.

In addition to playing with them and cuddling them and falling in love with them, we decided that they could run around the garden paths while we finished the planting. At first the great outdoors scared the little guys, and they stuck close to us. If you think this is a good thing, picture this: I have a trowel. And a tray of plants. And some dried horse manure, peat moss, and wood chips to use as I dig a hole, amend the soil, place the plant in the hole, and pat soil around its new home. I then place a small pot with the bottom removed over the plant; we have had visitors cut our plants at the base and the containers thwart them.

What the container doesn't thwart are ten-week old kittens. I noticed this when I returned to the garden to water the newly planted tomatoes and peppers only to see a small bottom and furry tail hanging out of one of the pots. I certainly didn't want to encourage either of the kittens' help, so I removed the little guy, replaced the protective container, and tried to distract the kitten.

Fortunately, his sister came to freight train him and he ended up chasing her down the hill towards Chip. I continued planting, only to hear a shout and then prolonged laughter. Apparently, onions are excellent cover for a boy kitten who is planning payback towards his sister. Figuring it was Chip's problem, I continued planting.

This planting fiasco continued for several days. The kittens became braver as each day passed, expanding their explorations to different parts of the garden. Apparently purple and green cabbage do not need protection, as almost every pot that I had placed over the crop had mysteriously been taken off. I retrieved the pots, replaced them over the cabbages, heaped soil around them, and removed two kittens. They raced off to the compost pile to spread mayhem. They then discovered some big pots with their bottoms removed that were used to protect the tomatoes before they got big enough. The pots became cheap toys for the kittens that occupied them long enough for us to finish the planting.

If you are a gardener, you know better than to use manure in your garden that is a) fresh and b) obtained from a meat-eating animal. To my dismay, the kittens chose the freshly tilled and cultivated soil as their personal litter box. Fortunately, they don't produce much and they are lousy at covering up their gift to us, so it was easy to clean up after them.

As the days have passed, the evening outside time with the kittens has continued. They are having fun stalking each other down the garden paths, playing with the weeds we throw out of the garden, and running frantically when a drop of water touches them. They definitely make gardening more fun-and more challenging.

At the end of the day, the garden is weeded, watered, and growing nicely. The kittens crawl into our laps and yawn. One smells distinctly of oregano; the smushed down edge of the plant tells the tale of why she wafts the fragrance as she settles into my lap for a nap. Her brother sleeps on Chip's shoulder, exhausted from racing through the onions to pounce on his sister.

Chip persists in naming them. I refuse. If we name them, they will never leave. They are lousy gardeners and even worse listeners. Okay, they are entertaining. And cute. And we are not keeping them. Really, we're not. They're just here for a little while.

 

Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.

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A Series of Strange but Fortunate Events https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13312/ Mon, 16 Apr 2018 08:18:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/hkmw/eb402/entry_13312/ One of the best things about gardening, for me, is always getting to learn something new, sometimes from surprising sources. This is the story of a new house, a new truck, and a desired plant.

My daughter and her family moved into a house in Oak Park in late summer and I got to help them move. When I walked into their backyard, I stood, stunned, unable to move. As I approached their back deck, a Nelly Moser clematis caught my eye. Next to Nelly, wrapping itself around the supports of the landing and falling almost to the ground, bloomed the most incredible vine. Its white flowers were shaped in a cross, the abundant blooms almost obliterating the green leaves of the vine itself. Some of the plant was still in bud while other flowers were in full bloom. A mild fragrance coming from the hundreds of blooming flowers convinced me that I had to have this plant. One small problem: I wondered how to find out the name!

Forward to the following fall. Chip and I went to look at a truck at a fellow's house. While he and Chip discussed the truck for what seemed like forever, the wife and I chatted. Finally, out of topics of conversation, she asked if I would like to visit her garden. Out we went. As I closed the door behind me, I looked up to find the same vine that had graced my daughter's deck, in glorious full bloom. "Do you know the name of this?" I demanded of the wife. Looking slightly taken aback, she said, "Yes, it's a Sweet Autumn Clematis." I was in Heaven. Finally, my search was finished.

I spent the winter months looking in catalogs and online, determined to find the plant. I don't like to spend $20-$30 for a plant. I couldn't find the plant for under that price. Chip suggested that I get a start from Megan's plant on my next visit. Sounded like a plan.

In the spring, I went to the Knox County Nursing Home in Knoxville for the annual plant sale held every Mothers' Day weekend. This is always a lot of work but the folks who work the sale, Master Gardeners from the area, have become friends over the years and it is always fun to not only check out the plants but learn about new ones from knowledgeable people. Plus the prices are incredibly low for freshly dug plants that transplant easily and thrive in my gardens. All proceeds benefit the residents so I can feel altruistic while getting inexpensive plants. Plus Chip always grows extra herbs and vegetables specifically for the sale so we feel good about donating those.

We were set up, waiting for customers, when a woman drove up with a pickup full of plants. This is not unusual. People are incredibly generous in donating to the sale. We are not rigid about delivery deadlines. If someone comes with donations while the sale is ongoing, there are enough folks available to unload, price, and arrange new donations. I was helping to unload when I saw several containers with green vines trailing down the side. Curious, I asked the woman what the plants were. I almost choked when she replied, "Sweet Autumn Clematis." I didn't have to travel to Oak Park! My much-desired plant had found me! After we finished unloading, I picked the woman's brain to find out as much as I could about the plant.

Clematis are interesting plants because there is so much variety among them. Colors, bloom times, and ease of care make these vines a special addition in a garden. Because it blooms in August and September, when most other plants are fading, Sweet Autumn Clematis is especially intriguing. It can go crazy invasive if it isn't pruned hard in spring. "Pruned hard" means in late winter/early spring, you find a pair of buds 6 to 12 inches from the ground and cut the dried vine. Bear in mind that this is kind of scary because the vine could be 30 feet long. Gather the dried vine and either compost it or recycle it with other yard waste. You aren't going to kill the plant by cutting the vine so drastically, I promise!

An old gardening adage "Love their feet in the shade and their faces in the sun" applies to this clematis. Be sure the plant has moist feet by mulching heavily and watering frequently so the roots don't dry out. Provide adequate support because this vine will get crazy tall. The fragrance and glorious display far outweigh the rambunctious growth as other plants' summer blooms fade in your garden just as this clematis begins its display. Please plant this.

 

 

Today's post was written by Sandra DePalma-Odell. Sandra is a Certified Master Gardener serving Henderson, Knox, McDonough & Warren Counties. A former English Teacher of 27 years, she writes about everyday life as a gardener learning as she grows. In addition to gardening, she loves to read, cook, and hang out with her two grandkids.


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