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Garden Ramblings, Issue #009
May 15, 2005
May 2005

Monthly musings on the garden scene

*********************************************************** If you prefer, you can view this month's issue online where you can also subscribe if this copy has been forwarded to you by a friend. ***********************************************************

In this issue:

- Letter from the Editor
- Plant of the month
- Zen Gardens
- Pick of the scented blooms
- Special offers
- Useful resources




Welcome to the May issue of Garden Ramblings your monthly window on what's going on in the world of gardening.

The "Plant of the Month" is the Lily of the Valley.

Instead of a Guest Article this month I am including one of my own on an approach to creating a Zen Garden.

Last month's review of perennial plants completed the series on scented blooms and there will be a new topic starting in June. To fill the gap you will find a piece on aromatic herbs.

Now that the season is in full swing, the sales are over and special offers are few and far between, but I do have one or two suggestions for you.

In the resources section there are just two items this month.

If you want to keep up with all the news in the gardening world, you can read my blog Garden Supplies News.

Enjoy the issue.




Plant of the Month

Name: Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

Description: A hardy herbaceous perennial with mid to dark green leaves that grow in pairs to a height of 6-8 inches. Arching stems carry from five to eight bell-shaped flowers in April and May. The flowers have a characteristic sweet scent.

Origin: Native to the cool moist areas of Europe, Asia and North America.

Cultivation: Grow in ordinary garden soil containing plenty of leafmould or compost. They will thrive in the open or the partial shade of buildings, but grow best under deciduous trees. They need ample moisture at the roots. Plant the crowns singly in September or October about 3-4 inches apart. Propagate by dividing the rhizomes with a fork at any time between October and March.

Pests and diseases: Generally trouble free but rhizomes of established plants can be damaged by swift moth caterpillars and, in wet situations, grey mould fungus can affect the leaves and stalks.

Folklore: Lily of the valley is the flower of May Day in France where it is a typical gift of the season. Any wish made while carrying it comes true. It signifies the return of happiness. Legend is of a nightingale that would not come back to the woods until the flower bloomed again in May. It is often called ladder to heaven or Jacob's tears. Others tell that Mary's tears turned to lily of the valley when she cried at the cross and thus are also known as Mary's tears. A French legend tells of a holy man known as Saint Leonard, who lived in the Vienne Valley near Limoges in 559 AD. During a long battle with a Dragon living there, which he eventually won, St. Leonard was injured. It is said that God made White Lilies spring forth from the ground where the Saints blood fell. Some believe that planting lilies in a garden will protect the area from ghosts and evil spirits.


*********************************************************** Zen Gardens

When you hear the term "Zen Garden" the picture conjured up is of a dry landscape with rocks surrounded by carefully raked gravel which invites you to withdraw from the noise of the world outside and to enter into silent meditation. Some say that zen priests adopted the dry landscape style in the eleventh century as an aid to create a deeper understanding of the zen concepts, but others hold that the Japanese Zen Garden is a myth. They claim that it is a late 20th Century western creation that has nothing to do with the Japanese Garden Tradition and that the dry garden style is not unique to zen temples but can be found associated with many other buildings.

Whatever your view it is undeniable that there is something rather special about this dry landscape style which is generally known as a Zen garden. The main elements consist of rocks representing mountains or islands surrounded by flowing water in the form of sand or gravel.

Recently scientists used computer analysis to study one of the most famous Zen gardens in the world, at the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, to discover why it has a calming effect on the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come every year. The researchers found that the seemingly random collection of rocks and moss on this simple gravel rectangle, when viewed from the right position, created the image of a tree in the subconscious mind.

Not all Zen gardens are restricted to dry stones and gravel, but often include plants and mosses as well as shrine lanterns, bridges and water features. A Zen garden should be equally attractive and inviting throughout the year, which is why evergreens play such an important role in their design. Black pines and bamboo, moss and other evergreen ground covers provide seasonal continuity which is always green and alive.

Construction of a Zen garden starts with the selection of suitable rocks. It is important that you find rocks in shapes that appeal to you since these will form the backbone of the design. It may take some time for you to find the right stones and gravels to blend together to form a harmonious picture, but taking time and making careful choices is an important part of transforming simple gardening into an act of "meditation". Zen gardening means that design, construction, planting and cultivation is all part of the garden itself. A Zen garden is a continuing process in which the creation and maintenance of the design is as much a part of the meditation as contemplation of the completed garden.
*********************************************************** Pick of the scented blooms.

Last month this section looked at fragrant perennials and this meant that virtually all the different plant and shrub types have now been covered. This spot will be filled with a new topic next month, but as an interlude in between I am going to look at herbs. Although herbs are mostly prized for their culinary uses, many are highly aromatic and so could be said to be related to the fragrant blooms theme.

Balm (Melissa officinalis)is a hardy herbaceous perennial which grows 2-4 feet high. When crushed its leaves give off a strong lemon scent. The tiny white flowers are attractive to bees. The leaves can be used to make a pleasant drink which is said to ensure long life.

Bay (Laurus nobilis) is a hardy evergreen shrub native to mediterranean regions where it will grow 10-18 feet tall. Bay was the source of laurel crowns for poets and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome. Its highly aromatic leaves make it an essential culinary flavoring either used alone or as an ingredient of bouquet garni.

Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) is a hardy herbaceous perennial native to Europe. It is a mat-forming species growing 6-9 inches high with aromatic leaves and daisy-like flowers that are borne from June to August. In Tudor England there was a fashion for chamomile lawns which released their fragrance when the leaves were crushed by footsteps. Today the same result can be achieved by planting next to a path so that you tread on the leaves as you walk past.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a hardy perrenial native to Europe which grows up to 8 feet tall. The leaves and more particularly the cigar-shaped seeds have an aniseed-like fragrance and flavor.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a hardy herbaceous perennial native to Europe and Northern Asia which grows 2-3 feet high. Cream-white fragrant flowers are borne from June to August. The scent is rather like that of hawthorn, but much stronger.

Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a hardy perennial sub-shrub native to Europe which grows to a height of 24 inches. The clusters of white, mauve or pink flowers open from June to September. The whole plant is hairy and sweetly aromatic.

Mint (Mentha spicata) is a hardy perennial herb native to Europe and grows 2-3 feet tall. This is the common culinary mint which is also used in spearmint gum. There are many varieties of mint including Apple Mint, Peppermint and Pineapple mint whose names indicate their scents and flavors. Eau-de-Cologne mint is another which is noted for its delicious lemon fragrance.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is a hardy biennial herb native to Central and Southern Europe and grows to a height of 12-24 inches. The scent of its crushed leaves is both penetrating and refreshing and its uses in the kitchen are many.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is a hardy evergreen sub-shrub native to Southern Europe which grows to a height of two feet. Small violet-blue flowers are produced in June and July. This herb is one of the most aromatic of plants, the scent being mostly in the leaves.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a hardy evergreen dwarf shrub native to Southern Europe which grows 4-8 inches high. Clusters of mauve flowers appear in June. The dark-green leaves are highly aromatic. Lemon thyme (Thymus x citriodorus) is similar in appearance but has broader, lemon-scented leaves.

*********************************************************** Special Offers

Now that the gardening season is in full swing there are less bargains to be had. As always I can only repeat my suggestion that you subscribe to the merchants' newsletters so that you will be notified direct of any offers that they do make. The latest ones that I have seen are:

Brecks are offering a free Towering Prism bulb as part of their Deluxe Perennial Tulip Collection. "This enormous bulb-a full 14 cm. or larger- is so rare that fewer than one person in a million throughout the entire world will have the opportunity to plant it this year. You are one of those select few! You and your neighbours have never seen a Tulip so big. Towering Prism will grow over three feet tall, producing a tall, chalice-shaped, mid to late spring flower with a beautiful pink blush, fading into a yellow trim."

Dutch Gardens have just announced a Bumper Crop Sale on 30 summer blooming bulbs and plants. Daylilies, Calla lilies, Plox, Gladioli, Potentilla, Veronica and more all at 55% off.

Gurney's Seed and Nursery have big reductions on fruit trees but this promotion may have ended by the time you read this.

Gardeners Supply Company still have their $20 coupon which you can use when you spend $50 but this offer expires May 26.

*********************************************************** Useful resources

Recently I came across the website of the Green Man Show which produces short fifteen minute programs on gardening topics on cable tv. You can actually watch the show on your computer and there are archives of past shows that you can also watch. But the best feature of the site is that they have a series of PDF booklets based on past shows that you can download for free. At the left side of the page you will see a link to "Documents and Publications" but this was not working when I last tried. Just scroll down to the bottom of the page and you will find them there.


Last month I mentioned that I had been looking into the possibility of providing a toolbar containing all the links mentioned in this section. This is still under consideration at present, so instead here is another screensaver! To tie in with the article on Zen Gardens this is a series of forty stunning photos of the real thing.


Please feel free to pass on this newsletter to your gardening friends. Do let me have your feedback and suggestions to: [email protected]

That's all until next month but in the meantime you can always look at my Blog Garden Supplies News

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