Bug Killer

There is a form of hypocrisy common to nearly all gardeners.  It does not affect only the gentle amateurs, but has been known to affect even the most hardened professional, who is not, generally speaking, a sentimental or squeamish man.  It is the human weakness which, accompanying our determination to rid ourselves of our slugs and snails, makes us reluctant next morning to contemplate the result of our over-night efforts.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

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I was sitting out with my husband the other night, which we tend to do a lot in the summer months.   I was telling him about some mysterious creature attacking my roses.  I never saw anything during the day but the next morning the leaves would be almost gone and my buds would disappear.   He gave me a flashlight and told me to go look for slugs.  I had just sprayed everything that day so smugly I took the flashlight not thinking I’d find anything.  I didn’t find slugs, but instead, multiple June bugs were having a slow menacing feast.  They kept on in their euphoric culinary heaven even while I flashed my light on them.  I flicked them off and they all landed on the ground with tiny crackling thuds like they were dead.   I grabbed a jar and gathered them up.  Then I went around knocking all the June bugs I could find into my jar.

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Succumbed to the poison they had consumed from my leaves, all but two were dead.  Or so I thought.  For twelve hours they sat still inside the jar.  Two still squirmed, clambering all over their dead in an effort to free themselves.  I thought it only fair to put an end to their suffering.  I soaked a tissue with alcohol and placed it inside.   It is the same thing I used to do in elementary school when we were assigned bug projects.   But somehow the alcohol brought them all to life again and they ALL began to squirm from the alcohol’s suffocating effects.  I couldn’t believe it.  I didn’t know June bugs played dead.  That’s what they were doing, hoping I’d leave them alone so they could continue their feast.  I promptly placed the jar in the freezer.  Now they are definitely dead.   Do you think I’m cruel?  Perhaps I am.   But I will only say, it is cruel for a creature to take away the health of my rose bushes.   There are plenty of other roses in this neighborhood.  The house next door, for instance, has two neglected climbers.   Since I gathered them, others have yet to find my garden.

If you do have this problem you can use a spray or dust with Seven.  You can also try to catch them in oil with a light, but I think drowning them in oil is just as cruel or perhaps more so.   It is cruel no matter what.  But we are human.  Unlike insects, we registrar thoughts and contemplate life and have to endure every bump and bruise conscientiously and to its full extent and if a beautiful roses bush brings us a little pleasure from all we must take on then God help the creature who treads through our gardens.

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Fragrant Abelia

“…do plant Abelia Triflora.  It flowers in June, grows to the size of what we used to call syringe [lilac], and is smothered in white, funnel-shaped flowers with the strongest scent of Jasmine.”

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden;
June 18th, 1950
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I waited all summer to buy the Abelia.  As you might know, shrubs are best planted in the fall.  I knew I had to have it, the scent of Jasmine is too irresistible.

Don’t be deterred by their condition in the fall, especially if it’s been sitting all summer in the nursery.  When I found it, the leaves had turned leathery and had been nibbled by pests.  The stems seemed unhealthy and were bent in peculiar ways.  Everyone passed it up as they clambered for the beautiful perfection of the blooming Rose of Sharron,  but I knew what the Abelia would do come summer.   The leaves, as you can see, are supple and green and its stems have now found their way to the sun.  The little flowers, which do resemble those of the Jasmine vine are pink and white; a beautiful contrast to its bright green leaves.  They start blooming right after the lilacs so it’s perfect for those of you “timing” your garden blooms.

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I love passing by and getting whiffs of its Jasmine-like scent.  Right now it is short and I have to bend over to catch it, but soon it will be right in my face.  I believe I choose the right spot.  All my scented flowers are planted along my back yard walking path so I can enjoy them.  So far, it has not been bothered by pests.  All my other bushes have been sprayed, but I haven’t had to touch the Abelia.  So, perhaps it has the added quality of being pest resistant?

Truly, it’s a beautiful plant.  Along with Vita, I too would recommend it, especially for those of you who would like something your neighbor doesn’t have, if we are comparing such things.

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Winter Rebels

It is amusing, and also useful as a record of what to plant now, looking forward to twelve months hence, to make a compact little bunch of what may be found flowering out of doors in this drear empty month.  Prowling round through the drizzle with knife and secateurs, I collected quite a presentable tuzzy-muzzy.

-Vita Sackville-West
More For Your Garden
Nov. 15th, 1953

If you’ve read my post What Is A Tussie-Mussie?  you’ll know Vita is referring to a small bouquet of mixed flowers – a sampling of one’s garden.  Now, since the frost has come and gone and come again, it is almost impossible to find any flowers now.  However, there are plenty of spent flowers remaining.  Flowers which stand, brown and suspended on their stiff spikes will make striking displays for drying.  I implore you to take up this challenge and see what you can find out of doors.  It is a wonderful reminder as one hunkers down for the winter to gaze upon the little dried beauties with hope – it is but only three months away.

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My mother is quite funny, sometimes she’ll come up with ideas that have us rolling with laughter.   As we sat in the last blaze of summer sun at her cottage we contemplated the coming winter and she vowed, in jest, she would, “defy the seasons”.  She came up with many hysterical instances on how she would do this and we had a good laugh.  However, now it’s getting serious.  It will snow soon!   My mother’s ironic humor resonates and I think she was right; there is no better way to “defy the seasons” than by going out to pick a bouquet of flowers as the blistering icy wind blows.

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As you take up this idea and venture out keep your eyes open and use your imagination.  For instance, my uncle once made a sculpture out of our dried sunflowers and their incredibly sturdy stalks.  As for me, for weeks I have passed by a grouping of dried garlic chives on my run.  I soon got it in my head that I must have them.  They were beautiful spikes with balls of delicate seeds that seemed to glisten in the sun.  One morning I asked the owner of the property if I could have some.  He said I could take what I needed. 
With the holidays coming or rather in America, we have already begun, sometimes it’s fun to find spent blooms on the more woody stems or perhaps pine cones and spray paint them gold or silver.  They look very good stuffed in a Christmas tree or placed in a table setting.
Don’t be shy.  If you happen to walk by and see, for several weeks, spent blooms which are failing to be clipped, ask the owner if you can take some.  It’s the holiday season after all; a season of giving.  I’m sure they would love to share the wealth.

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Life After Deadheading

My liking for gardens to be lavish is an inherent part of my garden philosophy.  I like generosity wherever I find it, whether in gardens or elsewhere.

-Vita Sackville-West
March 26, 1950

In the quote above she speaks of pruning.  From her books I gather that Vita thought pruning in the Spring a foolish way to go about the garden.  She referenced the Victorian gardens of abundance and the wild gayety of the flowers, able to stretch themselves to the sky.

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The gardens of the turn of the century up through mid-century established a habit of cutting their roses right down to the ground in order to achieve abundant blooms.  But in doing so they only stifled growth.  Vita argues that roses ought to be left alone in the Spring, and if you didn’t believe her she simple advised: “the only thing is to be bold; try the experiment; and find out.”

I do not prune my roses.  Instead, the only thing I do is deadhead them throughout their bloom season and in the spring to make the greens look more attractive.

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Deadheading is my favorite thing.  It’s therapeutic and it’s grounding.  I’ve heard when monks are upset or a little melancholy they are told to work in the garden until they feel better.  Deadheading is the perfect way to fidget while thinking out one’s problem.  But why should we cut off the spent flowers like I will do soon to my Floribunda Tuscan Sun above?

The rosarians whose books I’ve read fail greatly at one simple task. They order us: “deadhead at an angle facing away from the leaf a quarter inch above the leaf”.  They show pictures: “too much”, “not enough”. But why?  They never explain this.  Perhaps if they did we would be more apt to follow orders? Knowing what treachery might befall upon our precious blooms we might do as they say.

Let’s examine this:

WHY DEADHEAD?

Do you want your roses to grow rapidly? Would you like more blooms?  How about continual bright red baby leaves sprouting all summer long?  Deadheading is your answer.

HOW TO DEADHEAD:
The best thing I can tell you is to cut down to the fifth leaf set.  Spot the spent bloom, follow its stem downward until you see the first five leaf stem.  Cut it there at an angle, opening away from the leaf set. Why?  Because this technique gives the new stem room to spike out and from what I’ve read it can also produce stronger stems if this is done one-quarter inch above the leaf set. Like this,

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As you can see I’ve had some thrip and beetle damage.  This is the first year I’ve had problems with pests of this nature and they caught me a little offguard-please ignore.

Anyway, a week later you should have young leaves shooting out all over, making a pretty show of purple and bright green-almost as striking as the flowers themselves.

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Young life, a reminder of our excitement and the hope we carried into spring.  I can feel that again when I look at these new leaves of tender delicacy.  Do this and you will see.  You needn’t worry.  Soon you will have an abundance of blooms again, bringing a sense of accomplishment to you and the beauty of youth and hope to your garden once again.

 

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Friday Snippets: “Smash” Their Stems with a Hammer

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Any lilac is ‘easy’: they need no pruning, though it is most advantageous to cut off the faded flowers, this is really important; they are perfectly hardy; and very long-lived unless they suddenly die back, which sometimes happens….By the way, if you strip all the leaves from cut branches of (lilac) they will last far longer, besides gaining in beauty.  Try. And smash the woody stems with a hammer.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 1948

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When we moved into our house about six years ago, I was ecstatic because we had two thriving lilac bushes.  Then, for reasons I can’t remember, we pruned them.  For two years they struggled to bloom. Vita is right, they don’t need pruning!

Now, following Vita’s instructions I simply cut off the “dead” blooms and they’ve been blooming very well in recent years.  Come Mother’s day I’ll treat myself to a bouquet cut from my own backyard and I won’t forget to pluck their leaves and smash their stems.  This trick also works with other blooms cut from bark-like stems like forsythia or a catkin. Try.

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.