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Archive for June, 2011

Broadleaf helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the edge of our driveway.

Broadleaf helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) growing at the edge of our driveway in Augusta County, VA.

This summer, my husband Eric, a professor at Mary Baldwin College, has made it his mission to find and photograph every wildflower that grows in Augusta County, Virginia – or I should say he is searching for the ones that over the last 25 years he hasn’t managed to find and photograph. Eric is in the process of expanding his wonderful and very informative website that explores the wildflowers of the central Shenandoah Valley; their natural history, the meaning of their names, and certain interesting folk and traditional uses (fun trivia as he puts it). He has always believed that there is more to a wildflower than just its name. He feels that you should know them like a friend; where they prefer to hang out, who their relatives are, where they come from …

This past week, Eric spent most of a day looking for a particular wild orchid that has been reported in Augusta County. He never found it … until he got home, got out of the car and discovered it growing in the gravel right beside his parking place!

Unusual flowers consist of 3 pinkish petals and 3 greenish-pink sepals. The lower petal is formed into a cup-shaped structure and produces nectar.

Unusual flowers consist of 3 pinkish petals and 3 greenish-pink sepals. The lower petal is formed into a cup-shaped structure and produces nectar.

Broadleaf Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) is a wild orchid native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It was introduced to the United States in the 1800’s for its medicinal value. This attractive orchid has a rather scattered distribution in the eastern half of the U.S. which is more than likely a result of its use as a medicinal plant.

Broadleaf helleborine is an interesting plant with very interesting flowers. You can tell it is in the orchid family because each flower on the tall flower spike resembles a miniature orchid. It grows about 20″-30″ tall and thrives in dry, rocky, open woodlands, along woodland streams, and in disturbed areas.

Tall spikes of attractive flowers are in bloom from June-September.

Tall spikes of attractive flowers are in bloom from June-September.

In some areas of the northeastern U.S., it is actually becoming invasive. It is less common in the mid-Atlantic, and in Virginia, it has only been reported in 3 counties, one of which is Augusta County. It appears to be spreading, however, and has now made it onto a “watch list” as a potentially invasive species in the mid-Atlantic region. It seems to grow quite well given the right conditions and it must really like where we live because, once he discovered this one, we started noticing others that have popped up throughout our gardens. Hmmmm, I was pretty excited that we had wild orchids growing on our property but perhaps this isn’t such a good thing after all!


Well, at least for now, I’m happy to have it in the garden – but I’m going to keep an eye on it!

Oh, and as to its medicinal uses

the roots of this plant are said to cure INSANITYPERFECT!

 

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Blueberries are not only delicious but they are full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff!

Blueberries are not only delicious but they are full of antioxidants and other healthy stuff!

We picked the first blueberries of the season last night – and boy, are they delicious!

My husband Eric was up in the blueberry patch picking when I got home and I joined him as soon as I figured out where he was. In hindsight, I should have brought one of our harvest baskets with me as Eric only had a one gallon bag that he was picking into. It was quite a challenge sharing that little bag but it was filled to the top by the time we finished. Well, we didn’t actually finish picking them all – it seemed like the more we picked, the more we found. It felt like they were ripening as fast as we were picking! It took a while but eventually, we got most of them – at least for now.

One of our other blueberry cultivars is just beginning to ripen.

One of our other blueberry cultivars is just beginning to color up. These will ripen and be ready to pick in about a week.

We have a small patch of blueberry bushes that we put in about 12 years ago or so. Initially, we planted a selection of six different varieties and then a few years later, we added 2 more to the group for a total of 8 shrubs. Since they are different varieties, they ripen at different times and this extends the season nicely!

Blueberries are easy to grow, especially if the planting site is prepared well initially. They should be planted in an area that receives full sun and has good moist soil that is rich in organic matter.

In addition and just as important, they require acidic soil (pH between 4.5 and 5.5). It is important to test your soil first, but most garden soils are not normally this acidic and it’s usually necessary to add a soil acidifier. Sulfur in some form is the most effective way to acidify your soil. Straight chemical or elemental sulfur is commonly used and will successfully lower pH if applied according to the label directions. Mix in plenty of good quality compost and peat moss; this will help retain moisture and nutrients in the soil. Mulch the plants with about 3″ of pine mulch or pine needles after planting.

This is a much later variety. By planting early, mid, and late season varieties, you can have blueberries over a longer season.

This is a much later variety. By planting early, mid, and late season varieties, you can have blueberries over a longer season.

Once planted, they don’t require much maintenance except to maintain the lower soil pH and keep them weeded and watered. Fertilize them with Holly-tone and some cottonseed meal in the spring and fall. To be honest, we kind of neglect ours more than we should but despite our inattention, every spring they bloom profusely and provide us with an abundance of delicious berries.

Some pruning is recommended on older blueberry shrubs and this should be accomplished in late winter or early spring before growth begins. The best way to prune them is to remove any crossing branches, broken branches, and weak, drooping branches. You should remove older branches that are no longer productive and any really twiggy stems, but do not remove more than 20% of the growth in any one season. Tip back branches that are too tall and thin out some of the end twigs to encourage more fruit production.

I will need to thin this shrub out early next spring

I'll need to thin this shrub early next spring

Animal marauders are the most serious pests that we’ve had to deal with and after sharing them with the deer for a few years, we finally got smart and surrounded the whole patch with a welded wire fence. Now we just have the birds to contend with. Every season they take their share and every year we vow to cover the blueberries with netting – hasn’t happened yet!

Blueberry flowers

Blueberry flowers

Blueberry shrubs also make an attractive addition to the landscape providing interest for the entire season. The clusters of white or blush flowers that cover the shrubs in the spring are not only beautiful but give the added bonus of the delicious blueberries in the early summer. The shrubs themselves have an attractive shape with lovely deep green foliage throughout the summer. In the fall, the leaves turn a brilliant scarlet and provide striking color in the landscape.

For now and throughout the next few weeks, I’ll be enjoying fresh blueberries on my cereal every morning. I’ll freeze some, too. So easy – I just stick them in a freezer bag and into the freezer they go – no processing necessary! Maybe I’ll make a pie or two and some blueberry jam, and my sister gave me a yummy recipe for a blueberry tart …

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Parsleyworms are the larvae of the Balck Swallowtail butterfly

Generally, I get rather irritated when critters start chewing on my plants – especially in my vegetable garden!

Parsleyworm

"Heres looking at you kid!"

But …

The other day on the parsley plants, we noticed several colorful green and black caterpillars chowing down on the leaves. Hmmmmm …

Now there are some caterpillars that I just won’t tolerate in my garden like the little green broccoli worms or the big hornworms that can defoliate whole tomato branches in a matter of days; but these were parsleyworms, the larvae of the beautiful Black Swallowtail butterflies. I didn’t want to kill them even though there were quite a few of them on the plants. We don’t eat a lot of parsley anyway so we can sacrifice a little bit of it, right?

First instar of the parsleyworm.

The first instar of the parsleyworm.

These caterpillars are quite fascinating creatures. They have five larval stages or instars and there were at least three of these stages spread out among the seven parsley plants. I counted six caterpillars all together. Well, maybe there won’t be much parsley left for us after all!

The youngest caterpillar, the first instar, is mostly black with small orange spots and a stripe in the center of its body. Each time they molt and progress to the next instar, the caterpillars get bigger and change a little bit. The last instars are the really cool, colorful ones. They get up to 2″ long.

A later instar of the parsleyworm

Later instars develop more striking color patterns.

These voracious eaters can devour all the leaves on a parsley plant in no time, leaving just the bare stems. Oh well – it’s just garnish to us, right? Well – I think my mom would argue with me on that – she just loves parsley but she likes butterflies, and in order to have butterflies, you must be willing to allow some plants to be eaten by the caterpillars! These guys also like Queen Anne’s Lace so I guess I could just transport them all to our wildflower garden and they’d probably be just as happy.

One really interesting thing about parsleyworms is that when they are disturbed or threatened, they rear up and protrude a pair of fleshy, orange “horns” just behind their head. This is a gland called an osmeterium which emits a very foul smell (I can attest to that) to deter would be predators. Nature is so cool!

Parsleyworm "horns"

Fleshy, orange "horns" emit a foul odor when the caterpillar is threatened.

As gardeners, we are always trying to attract the beautiful butterflies into our gardens and one of the best ways to do this is to plant some host species for them to lay their eggs on. These host plants will provide “food” for the caterpillars when they hatch.

Black Swallowtail caterpillars specialize in eating plants in the carrot family like parsley, celery, dill, and fennel – all things that we might grow in our gardens. So plant a few extra seeds throughout your perennial gardens to feed these colorful, hungry caterpillars. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful butterflies flitting and frolicking through your gardens happily feeding on nectar and pollinating all your flowers!

Black Swallowtails love the thistle flowers.

The end result is worth a few parsley leaves!

Until next time when I hope to give a progress report on my vegetable garden – Happy Gardening!

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