This summer, the monsoons in the Tucson area failed to develop. In order to save our plants, we’ve been watering a lot. Despite the water, several of my trees have died. Watering by hose just isn’t the same as rain. Rain has many benefits that artificial watering can’t replicate. I noticed that, after the single rainstorm we had this monsoon season, the plants responded spectacularly even though it was only a few tenths of an inch of rain. I can give them a gallon of water and not get such an enthusiastic response.
What is it about rain that plants crave?
It’s what rainwater contains that isn’t found in tap water. Rainwater has more oxygen, which is carried down into the soil. More importantly, rainwater carries down carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is needed to produce the carbohydrates to fuel plant growth. Also, carbon dioxide makes the rainwater acidic. This reactive water helps release micronutrients (zinc, manganese, copper and iron) in the soil that plants need. Unfortunately, in some places, pollutants in the air make the rainwater too acidic, which damages plants.
Have you noticed how fresh and clean plants look after a rain? Another important purpose of rain is to wash the dirt off the leaves. Plants photosynthesize much more efficiently when sunshine isn’t filtered by a layer of dirt.
Hopefully, our watering will help the plants hang on long enough until the rain once again falls from the sky.
The monsoon rainsalso play a part in the blooming of the Night-blooming Cereus every year. These amazing Sonoran Desert cactus plants all bloom together on one night every summer. You can read about them in my book, Queen of the Night, The Night-blooming Cereus.
You might expect that the author of a book of gardening essays (Time and the Garden) is an avid gardener. You’d be right! This post is about my annual journey with my annuals.
I have a collection of planted containers around the perimeter of my deck. They act as a visible barrier, needed because we removed the railing when we realized (the first winter of its life) that shoveling snow off the deck is nearly impossible with a railing in the way. Over the years, I have tried out many kinds of plantings.
My husband objected when plants got so tall that they obscured the view. And I eliminated plants that might look nice for a while but tend not to last through the whole summer. Among that group are China asters and painted tongue, both colorful flowers I really liked but the spent plants had to be dug out of the containers and replaced by about mid-July.
For some years now, the conventional wisdom concerning the best way to plant a container for maximum impact is the “thriller, filler, spiller” triad. The thriller, a tall plant with a dramatic shape, the filler being just as the name implies a plant – or sometimes two or three – with a bushy or bulky shape, and the spiller, a trailing plant or vine to spill over the edge of the container and is supposed to “soften the edges” of the container. This formula is often described as “well-rounded” and “professional” and even “foolproof.”
Eventually I grew tired of this formula. Containers planted this way began to seem overdone, even obese. I started to shift the containers to a more lighthearted presentation. Generally, this means smaller containers, often planted with just one or two kinds of plants.
These can be grouped in different configurations to show each pot to its best advantage through the summer season. I have tried several color combinations but generally have settled on hot colors for their cheerfulness and ease of growing: geraniums, marigolds, coleus, and nasturtiums.
One year I tried out a black and white theme. It seemed rather contrived, so I haven’t repeated it.
Some of this year’s pots have turned the tables, providing me surprises. I suppose it was the re-cycled potting soil that produced the large cucurbit. It must be the offspring of a hybrid squash, producing a plant and some fruit not quite like either of its parents. It provides a lush container planting that I would not have thought of myself.
This year I am experimenting with a whole bed of annuals at the south-facing end of the potting shed. For many years this spot served as the home of the truckload of pine mulch I invested in each spring. I knew that the pretty potting shed deserved a more attractive surround, but just couldn’t make up my mind about what sort of planting I wanted in this prime location. And it was handy having the mulch there.
This winter I came up with the scheme of making a fully packed bed of colorful annuals. Maybe that would help settle the question. I ordered seeds and started them in the cellar under gro-lights. As spring approached, I filled two cold frames with masses of seedlings.
I dug up the area, mixing the remaining, years-old, nearly-composted mulch with the rich black soil below. Finally, it was warm enough to plant them out in the prepared bed.
To my chagrin the masses of seedlings did not actually fill the bed as I had imagined.
A few days after the plants were settled in their new home a mama woodchuck found them and decided that the viscaria was a banquet just for her. I put up a temporary fence.
Eventually mama and her babies apparently moved on (we hadn’t seen her in a week) and I took down the fence.
Of course, that was a mistake – the slowly recovering viscaria were re-discovered and devoured, leaving a large bare spot in the center of the bed. The marigolds and calendula, the poppies and nicotiana have done well and are blooming. The zinnias have suffered badly from Japanese beetles and are way behind.
I think the only thing this experiment has proved is that a bed of annuals probably isn’t the solution to my design dilemma for the end of the potting shed. Next year, the mulch may be back.
NOTE: Jo Busha is the author of Time and the Garden, a collection of essays written over a ten-year period about gardening, life in Vermont, and observations of the natural world. It is arranged by season, but not all the essays have a specific seasonal connection. It will appeal to gardeners, readers seeking a strong sense of place, and people interested in rural living, even if they aren’t able to live it. This place, where Busha has lived for 45 years, has played a huge role in her life. While not a how-to book, gardeners may find the essays instructive. Booklovers are likely to feel this a cozy read, warmth for a snowy day.
There is a rose bush in my garden that has provided me
with many pleasures over the past ten years. I found it one fall afternoon growing
in our woods, bushwhacking off the usual trail. The red hips caught my eye. I
pushed through some tangled grape vines and young beeches to identify the spots
of red. When I saw that it was a rose bush, I looked around for signs of an old
cellar hole or other indications that someone had planted the rose in this
unlikely spot. When no reason for its presence could be found, I had to
conclude it had been sewn by a bird who had found a shrub somewhere, snacked on
the enticing fruits and deposited the undigested seeds right there. I made note
of its location so I could come back in the spring and transplant it to my
Indeed, I found it the following spring and was able
to dig up a section of suckering stems, leaving the main part of the bush to
continue to feed whatever creatures might have come to rely on it. It has
flourished, every year blossoming for a few weeks in high summer, sporting round
orangey-red hips in the fall, and sending out suckering stems of its own. I
think it might be a dog rose, Rosa canina, because the single flowers of
a soft rose-pink and the hooked thorns match the descriptions I’ve read, and
most pictures of the hips look like my rose. (Some pictures make them look long
and narrow, not round.)
This past fall I decided to take advantage of those
abundant hips and try my hand at making rosehip syrup. The word “hip” for the
fruit of a rose derives, by the way, from an Old English word for seed: hepe. Rosehip
syrup is well-known in England and recipes abound. It is thought to have
medicinal properties and is said that the British government encouraged the
making and use of rosehip syrup to provide children with a dose of
immunity-boosting Vitamin C when citrus fruits were scarce during World War II.
In fact, the recipes I found for making the syrup are nearly identical, and
apparently all come from the recipe promoted by the British government. The
main difference is that some use brown sugar rather than white. Though rosehips
now have been found to contain several health-promoting phytochemicals, rosehip
syrup is mostly appreciated for its unique, floral, citrusy flavor.
Rosa canina is a European import that has
naturalized in North America. It is often recommended for making syrup because
the hips tend to be relatively large. Hips aren’t good to eat raw as fruit,
because of small hairs inside that can be very irritating. The recipe I used
made 12 ½ pints of syrup, which will last me a long time! We have had it on ice
cream, yogurt, and on strawberry shortcake. It makes a nice Christmas present.
Note: This recipe calls for the use of a jelly bag. If you aren’t familiar with the jelly bag, it might be a good idea to look up information about making and using one. The Ball Blue Book is one resource.
2 pounds rose hips (some sources say to wait until after a frost to
3 quarts of water
2 cups of sugar for each pint of juice
Chop rosehips in food processor or by hand until mashed up.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add the chopped rosehips.
Bring water back to the boil, then remove from heat and allow to steep for 20 minutes.
Pour the rosehips and liquid into a damp jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through. Gently squeeze the jelly bag to extract as much liquid as possible. Be careful not to rip the bag. Pour the juice into a clean pan
Add rosehip pulp back to the first saucepan, add 1 quart of water and bring back to the boil. Then remove from heat and allow the contents to steep, again for 20 minutes, before straining through the jelly bag as in Step 4. Add the juice to the first batch of juice in the clean pan. Measure the amount of juice.
Stir 2 cups of sugar for each pint of juice into the strained rosehip juice and dissolve over medium heat, allow to simmer for five minutes, then pour into hot, pint jars. Process jars for 10 minutes in a hot water bath canner.
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