MAY DAY, MAY POLES & MAY BASKETS
May Day is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet it does have a long history as one of the world’s principal festivals. It seems to stretch back in time forever. The origin o f May Day as a day for celebration dates back to before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it has a Pagan connection.
For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the 2nd most important holiday of the year. It was when the festival of Beltane was held and was thought to be the day that divided the year in half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on Nov. 1. The custom was the setting of the fire, which was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for good luck. In Sweden, fires were built and Old Man Winter was burned in effigy.
Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a popular feast time for the Romans and it was devoted to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers. It was a 5 day celebration, from April 20 to May 2, called Floralia. Gradually the rituals of Floralia were added to those of Beltane, with many of today’s customs of May Day bearing similarities with both festivals.
May Day observance was discouraged during the Puritans reign, but was revived after they lost power. It had lost its robust force, and was regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for children. Tradition has it that on the first day of May, girls wake at dawn to gather wildflowers in baskets to be left on doorsteps. The boys would create all sorts of mischief to disguise their awkwardness as suitors. The day culminates in dancing around a maypole to tame the high spirits brought on by the perfumed air, warmed by the sun.
People have long believed that washing one’s face in the May Day morning dew would beautify the skin. Tradition also has it that on May Day, all the girls are lovely and all the boys are handsome. No wonder that in Italy, it is regarded as the happiest day of the year.
Maypoles were in every English village by the Middle Ages. The bringing of the Maypole from the woods was a great occasion, with much rejoicing and merrymaking. The poles were all sizes and villages would see who could produce the tallest maypole. The Maypole was usually set up for a day in the villages, but in London and larger towns they were set up permanently. The Maypole would be decorated with flowers. The fairest of maidens would be chosen as Queen of the May, male dancers with bells strapped to their arms and legs would provide the rhythm for the girls to circle the pole, with streamer in hand. The Maypole or May tree symbolized the tree of life. And trees have always been the symbol of great vitality and fertility of nature.
In the US May Day is celebrated by dancing and singing around a Maypole, tied with colorful streamers, choosing a May Queen, and by hanging May baskets on the doorknobs of folks, all remnants of the old European traditions. The Maypole is still the centerpiece of garden parties and festivals in Britain. The reveal of the pole begins with a parade of children bringing out the decorated pole and “planting” it in a prepared hole.
It doesn’t take a village green to put on a spring pageant, just a sun-filled backyard or a clearing in the woods. Any of us can mark the return of nature’s prettiest blooms by giving flowers to family and friends. You can decorate a paper cone with ribbons and fill with blossoms to hang on doorknobs. To keep blooms fresh, wrap stems in damp paper towels, then a square of tin foil.
DOES PART SHADE AND PART SUN
MEAN THE SAME THING?
There is a subtle difference in light preference for a plant labeled “part sun” vs. one that says “part shade.” But, essentially, the two terms mean about the same thing.
Both “part sun” and “part shade” refer to a plant that prefers four to six hours of direct sun each day (best if it comes in the first half of the day). The terms are basically interchangeable.
When you see “part sun” used, the grower is stressing that the plant requires at least four hours of sun and will likely do better with closer to six hours.
When you see “part shade” used, the grower is stressing that the plant should not receive more than six hours of sun and will likely do better with less. That’s why often you’ll see a plant indicated for “part shade to shade” or “full to partial sun.”
A garden is considered full sun as long as it gets at least 6 full hours of direct sunlight. Full sun is probably the trickiest level of exposure because while many plants need full sun to set buds and flower, some cannot handle the intense heat and/or dry conditions that often come with that much sunshine. One way around this is to site these sensitive plants where they will get more morning sun, than afternoon. It’s cooler in the morning and as long as the plants get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, they should grow well.
Dappled sunlight is similar to partial shade. It is the sun that makes its way through the branches of a deciduous tree. Woodland plants and under story trees and shrubs prefer this type of sunlight over even the limited direct exposure they would get from partial shade.
Full shade does not mean no sun. There aren’t many plants, other than mushrooms, that can survive in the dark. Full shade plants can survive on less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day.
‘CAPE BLANCO’ SEDUM
Chalky white foliage emits a balsam-raspberry fragrance on warm, sunny days. Yellow blooms appear in summer, but are not the main attraction. This hardy perennial prefers full to part sun in well drained soil. 6” tall by 24” wide.
‘BELLEZA DARK PINK’ GAURA
Gaura is a tender perennial (zones 6-9) that blooms all summer. Prefers full sun. Allow soil to dry between thorough waterings. Gaura provides a background plant for the garden that gives the impression of butterflies flitting in the breeze. The blooms have earned it the common name of Whirling Butterflies. Other common names include Bee Blossom. A tap rooted perennial, the plants are drought tolerant once established, and consequently, little care of gaura is needed. Height is 12-18” and 14-16” wide.
‘PINK CHAMPAGNE’ EPIMEDIUM
Epimedium X ‘Pink Champagne’
Epimedium is a great plant for dry shade. It is a spring bloomer and may be evergreen. With airy looking flowers with white spurs and raspberry centers and mottled leaves Pink Champagne is a looker. Epimedium will grow under large trees. Height is18-24” and 24-36” wide, shade to part shade. Epimedium is also known as barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, and horny goat weed. Species can be either deciduous or evergreen and the majority have four-parted “spider-like” flowers.
Grown for ornamental and culinary uses, Fennel has a soft nutty anise flavor. Host plant for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. A highly aromatic perennial herb, Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, licorice-flavored leaves and seeds. The variety ‘Purpureum,’ also known as Bronze Fennel, has dark, smoky foliage that’s very attractive in perennial borders or annual containers, where it adds a soft, airy, somewhat mysterious look. You may want to keep plants from blooming so they won’t reseed. However, the yellow flower heads are pretty. Certain swallowtail butterflies like Fennel as a food source for their caterpillars, who won’t eat much and are fun to watch as they grow. Remove spent flower stems to prevent an oversupply of seedlings. Grows in full sun, height 5-6’, and blooms July-Aug.
YARROW, ROUGH AND TOUGH
Achillea millefolium, commonly called common yarrow, is a rhizomatous, spreading, upright to mat-forming perennial that is considered by many to be an aggressive weed. Common yarrow from Europe and Asia was originally introduced to America in colonial times, and has since naturalized throughout the U. S. primarily along roadsides, fields, waste areas and lawns. These species plants are noted for producing deeply-dissected, fern-like, aromatic, medium green foliage and tiny, long-lasting, white flowers that appear in dense, flattened, compound corymbs (to 2-4” across) throughout the summer on stems typically rising 2-3’ tall. Foliage has a strong, somewhat spicy aroma that persists when used in dried arrangements. Species plants are uncommonly sold in commerce, however. It is the cultivars and hybrids of common yarrow, most of which have stronger stems, more upright habits and larger flowers, that have become popular flowering plants for ornamental gardens. Cultivars also extend the range of flower colors to include pinks, reds, creams, yellows and bicolor pastels. Plants are deer and rabbit resistant, attracts butterflies, drought resistant, fragrant foliage and flowers, and a summer bloomer. Achillea (Yarrow) are long-blooming, Old World perennials that are exceptionally easy-to-grow and provide ample nectar for butterflies.
Genus name is in reference to Achilles, hero of the Trojan Wars in Greek mythology, who used the plant medicinally to stop bleeding and to heal the wounds of his soldiers.
Specific epithet means thousand-leaved in reference to the foliage.
Common yarrow has a large number of additional common names, including milfoil, thousandleaf, soldier’s woundwort, bloodwort, nose bleed, devil’s nettle, sanguinary, old-man’s-pepper and stenchgrass.
Best grown in lean, dry to medium, well-drained sandy loams in full sun. Plants do well in average garden soils and tolerate poor soils as long as drainage is good. Plants also tolerate hot, humid summers and drought. If grown ornamentally, plants are best sited in locations protected from strong winds. Plant stems tend to flop, particularly in hot, humid climates such as St. Louis and/or if grown in moist, rich soils. Consider cutting back plant stems in late spring before flowering to reduce overall plant height. Cutting plants back to lateral flower buds after initial flowering will tidy the planting and encourage additional bloom. Plants may also be cut back to basal foliage after bloom. Divide clumps as needed (every 2-3 years) to maintain vitality of the planting. Plants spread aggressively by rhizomes and self-seeding, and can naturalize into substantial colonies if left unchecked.
Stem rot, powdery mildew and rust are occasional disease problems. Plant stems are weak and lodge easily. If grown ornamentally, plants can develop into a tangled mass of stems and foliage by mid to late summer if not cut back. Strong summer rain storms with high winds can easily flatten exposed plantings. May spread somewhat aggressively.
Cottage gardens, wild gardens, meadows, prairies and naturalized areas. Good fresh cut or dried flower.
Red Velvet Yarrow
Red Velvet is one of the best with it deep rose-red, flat-topped flower heads that hold their color. Deep green, fine textured foliage, this yarrow is sure to attract butterflies wherever it’s planted. 24-36″ tall x 24-36″ wide. An improved hybrid Yarrow, ’Red Velvet’ is one of the very best. Its deep rose-red, flat-topped flower heads are fade resistant and hold their color. With deep green, fine textured foliage, this Yarrow is sure to attract butterflies wherever it’s planted. Here’s a tough, easy-to-grow, long blooming plant for your xeriscape. Most Soil Types Including Clay. A sterile variety. Deadhead for re-bloom; Prune Basal Growth in spring.
Sunny Seduction Yarrow
‘Sunny Seduction’ is a naturally-occurring mutation of Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Pastels’ that was developed in the Netherlands by Dr. Elisabeth Sahin-Georgiadou and introduced by Blooms of Bressingham. It is part of the Seduction™ series and is sturdy and compact with a long blooming season. ‘Sunny Seduction’ has bright lemon yellow flowers that fade to pastel yellow as they age. It grows 1.5 to 2.5 ft. in height and 1 to 2 ft. in width. U.S. Plant Patent 20,808 issued March 2, 2010.
Saucy Seduction Yarrow
A beloved favorite just got better. Saucy Seduction Yarrow offers intense color on a compact plant with strong, branched stems. Its intense fuchsia pink blooms lighten to medium pink and provide gorgeous color in the garden all summer long. Butterflies love it! This easy-to-grow perennial also makes an excellent cut flower for fresh and dried floral displays. Saucy Seduction Yarrow is part of the Seduction Series known for intense color and compact habits. It’s an ideal choice for brightening cutting gardens, sunny perennial beds, prairie gardens and containers. Rabbits and deer tend to avoid.
Strawberry Seduction Yarrow
The Seduction™ Series of Yarrows were recently bred in the Netherlands. Plants are midsized and upright, with very uniform blooming over a long season. This selection has clusters of rich strawberry-red flowers, each with a tiny yellow eye. Excellent for cutting. Nice in the border and for massed planting. Deadheading faded blooms should encourage more buds to form over a long season.
THE DESPISED BRADFORD PEAR (CALLERY PEAR) AND WHY
The Bradford Pear tree (Pyrus calleryana). originated in China and was introduced in 1964 by the US Department of Agriculture as an ornamental tree. This flowering tree was assumed to be sterile (spoiler alert- it isn’t!) Sure, they don’t pollinate among themselves, but these promiscuous and stinky little trees like to pollinate with EVERYTHING else out there. And they are known for their weak branch structure. They have a lifespan only 20-25 years, as anyone who has seen these trees in an ice storm can attest.
Everywhere you go you see these pear trees planted and not just by people. The birds help to deposit the seeds in various places and you end up with Bradford pear trees in wild areas where they shouldn’t be. They may not be hurting your yard, but they are causing major damage for farmers and choking out beautiful (and valuable) hardwood trees. Because of the cross pollination problem, pear trees have now proliferated exponentially across our environment. And, to make matters worse, the evil offspring has reverted to the ancient Chinese Callery pears which form impenetrable thorny thickets that choke the life out of pines, dogwoods, maples, redbuds, oaks, hickories, etc.
The tree does look pretty in the spring when the blossoms are in full bloom. It stands in your yard like a giant Q-tip. But its wonderful bathroom utensil-like appearance is not all you get, an extremely odoriferous aroma tags along as well. The smell is reminiscent of rotting flesh or bad fish left for too many days in the hot sun. I won’t elaborate any further but the smell is very unpleasant! If you only have one or two of the trees planted the smell is tolerable, but when planted en mass the trees are overpowering.
Another problem associated with Bradford pear trees is the weak wood. Because of their fast growth and tight branching pattern they split very frequently in high winds. Bradford pear branches grow from a central point in a “V” form which makes it a very weak joint. That weak joint on the trunk ensures significant damage when a branch suddenly breaks in the wind or from ice accumulation. of
So what could you plant?
There are several native trees that are much more desirable.
*Wild Plum, Prunus Americana, grown as a single trunk tree or multi-stemmed shrub, early spring pure white, fragrant blooms, edible yellow to red, round fruits and host to the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly and many moths.
*American Hornbean, Carpinus caroliniana, small to med. tree forming wide spreading rounded tops with dark green leaves, fall color and thin, bluish-gray bark.
*Dogwoods, Cornus florida, white blooms, deep red fall color.
*Black Haw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium, white spring flowers, red fall color, fruit for the birds. Grow as a small tree or multi stemmed shrub.
*Serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea, early spring white, fragrant flowers, berrylike fruits edible for people and birds, colorful fall color.
*Black gum, Nyssa sylvatica, excellent specimen tree with a tidy shape, dark green leaves, fall color, fruit for the birds, dark gray bark, host to the black and white Hebrew Moth.
*Redbud, Cercis Canadensis, pink flowers, heart shaped leaves, yellow fall color.
*Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, white flowers in spring, 3-6” long clusters, suckering tree or large shrub, shade tolerance.
*Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, medium sized tree, golden fall color, fragrant, white flowers in May, flowers are pendulous 8-14’ long panicles, smooth gray bark
*Ironwood (Eastern hop hornbeam), Ostrya virginiana, under story tree, birch like leaves, flaky bark, fine textured drooping branches, attractive hop-like fruits.
For more info on the native trees, check out www.grownative.org
**Tree info from GrowNative website.
CACTI AND SUCCULENTS
All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti. While some types of succulents have somewhat exacting care requirements, most are easy to grow because they evolved with special water-storage tissues that allow them to survive in environments that are too dry for most other plants. Cacti are fleshy plants that store water, making them part of this group. In order for a succulent plant to be considered a cactus, the plant must have areoles. Areoles are small, round, cushion-like mounds of flesh where spines, hair, leaves, flowers, and more grow from the cactus.
* Cactus and succulent plants are very easy to care for, and because they are drought tolerant, they can survive (not flourish!) for several weeks at a time without water.
* Place your plant in an area well lit with natural light, such as on a windowsill or on a patio. Avoid intense, direct sunlight until plant has acclimatized to its new environment.
* Water when soil is dry to the touch, which is approximately every 7 – 10 days, indoors. Water less frequently during winter months, as this is the natural dormancy period of many plants.
* Fertilize with a half-strength general fertilizer once a month, if desired.
If you bought your succulents from a nursery or online store, the first thing you’ll want to do is repot them as soon as possible (or at least within 24 hours). Why? The small plastic pots and highly-absorbent planting soil that come with most succulents are not ideal. You’ll want move them into larger terra cotta containers with drainage holes and surround them with soil that dries quickly (more on that in a bit).
Succulents don’t thrive when they sit in wet soil, which makes a drainage hole very important. Cassidy Tuttle, the blogger behind Succulents and Sunshine and the author of Idiot’s Guides: Succulents, says terra cotta pots are the perfect options for beginners because the vessels dry quickly, they pull out water from the soil, they’re breathable, and they prevent water from building up. You can also plant succulents in ceramic, plastic, or metal containers—as long as there’s some sort of hole for drainage. Glass containers are okay too, but they’re not as easy to work with. “The quickest way to kill your succulent is to trap it in a glass bowl without drainage,” Tuttle says. “They do need water, but they like their roots to dry out really quickly. Being in a typical terrarium or glass bowl doesn’t really allow that.”
The size of your container should also be considered. You can control the growth of your succulents by planting them in a pot that encourages or discourages growth—they’ll “bonsai,” or take the shape and size of the container in which they’re planted.
Succulents do best in soil that doesn’t hold water, and you can give that to ’em in three ways. First, if you already have gardening soil at home, you can add pumice or perlite to your mixture, both of which you can buy at your local nursery. Alternatively, you can purchase succulent-friendly Gritty Mix soil, which mimics the natural soil they prefer to grow in. Your last option is that you can try making your own succulent soil at home by combining pine bark fines, turface, and crushed granite. These options ensure your succulents are growing in materials that pull the water away from them.
You can grow almost any succulent indoors as long as you give it enough access to bright light. Ensure their health and growth by placing them next to the sunniest window in your home for at least six hours per day. “South-facing windows are going to give them the most sunlight, all day long,” Tuttle said.
Knowing when and how much to water your succulents is one of the trickiest parts of caring for these plants. “Ninety-nine percent of taking care of succulent is watering,” says Darren Irwin, the founder and owner of The Succulent Source in Southern California. His rule of thumb: Water when dry; never water when wet, damp, or moist. “If they dry out completely in five days, you can water them every five days. If they dry out completely in two weeks, then water every two weeks.” When you water your plant, drench the soil with liquid, you’ll know you’ve watered the plant enough when water exits through the drainage hole. Let the succulent dry completely, and then wait a few days before watering again. We repeat: There should be no moisture or water in the container before you water again!
From Country Living website
Helleborus, also called Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose, is one of the most attractive and longest blooming perennials for the part shade to full shade garden, especially DRY shade. They are deer resistant, great for mixed beds and borders, hardy in zones 4-9, evergreen, and late-winter to early spring flowering. In my garden they usually start blooming Feb. and will hold the blooms for a good 3 months. The color of the blooms does fade over time, but how many perennials will have blooms for 3 months!?!?
Mature clumps are about 12-24” tall and 24-30” wide, and may have 50 or more blooms per plant. Flower color ranges from white to plum, with in between shades of pink, rose, magenta, cream, yellow, and green. There are both single and double forms available. And the doubles are getting to be more affordable. Flowers are usually cup or bell shaped and either outward facing or drooping.
The leaves are thick and sturdy, resembling leathery umbrellas, adding nice texture to the garden and a prefect backdrop for bulbs and other perennials. Winter conditions can make the leaves rather tattered by spring, just prune old leaves to the ground in late winter. The blooms and new leaves will then look their best. Some species have stems that rise from the ground, with leaves all along their length, others have leaves that arise directly from the growing points at ground level.
Established clumps may produce lots of seedlings. These usually appear in early to mid spring and may be moved while small. The seedlings may take 2-3 years to bloom and may flower in shades different from parent plants. This is caused by cross-pollination by insects. Mature plants may be divided in spring or fall, but they resent it and are slow to recover.
“Christmas rose” starts blooming in Dec., while “Lenten Rose” starts later in winter. But most gardeners use either one or both as a common name for Helleborus.
“Like a chain letter, I will take a plant from this garden to the next and from the next garden to the one after that, and so on, until someday I am an old woman nurturing along a patchwork quilt of a garden, with cuttings and scraps from every garden I tended before”
Amy Stewart, From the Ground Up, 2001
My version on that quote would be: “Like a chain letter, I will take a plant from this gardener, and the next, and so on, until someday I am an old woman nurturing along a patchwork quilt of a garden, with cuttings and scraps from gardeners’ gardens that I have known”