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Garden Ramblings, Issue #018
February 15, 2006
February 2006

Monthly musings on the garden scene

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In this issue:

- Letter from the Editor
- Plant of the Month
- Organic Gardening
- Garden Gnomes
- Special Offers
- Useful Resources



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

The "Plant of the Month" is the crocus whose flowers tell you that Spring is just around the corner.

There is no Guest Article this month. Instead there is a short piece on organic gardening which is the theme of this month's newsletter.

Although not everyone's favorite, it seems that Garden Gnomes are becoming increasingly fashionable as garden ornaments. In this article I explore some of the reasons for their popularity and review the variety of products that are available.

With Spring nearly upon us the merchants are doing their best to persuade us to buy plants and equipment for the new season. The Special Offers section contains a mixture of free shipping, reductions if you spend more than a certain figure and new products.

The resources section this month follows the theme of organic gardening and lists a number of websites that have a wealth of information on this approach to cultivating your backyard.


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: Crocus

Description: The crocus genus contains more than 70 species of hardy low growing plants that flower at various times between August and March but are particularly associated with a late winter display. The flowers are yellow, white and shades of mauve and purple.

Origin: Native to the mountainous and higher ground regions of countries to the north and east of the Mediterranean regions including Iran.

Cultivation: Grow in well-drained soil in a sunny position. Best grown in rock gardens or in clumps under shrubs. When grown in a lawn the grass should not be mown until the leaves have turned yellow. Propagate by removing the small cormlets from the bulb and growing these separately.

Pests and diseases: The corms can be eaten by mice and the young flowers damaged by birds. The plants can be affected by gladiolus dry rot and scab.

Folklore: One variety, crocus sativus, produces saffron which has been prized since classical times. The first historic record comes from Ancient Egypt and Rome where it was used for hair and fabric dyes. It was considered an aphrodisiac by the Ancient Greeks. According to a Greek legend Crocos, a mortal, fell in love with a nymph called Smilax. When she rejected his advances Crocos became a lovely purple flower. The crocus was regarded as a sacred flower in Minoan Crete. Today saffron is widely used in cooking particularly in Indian and Spanish cuisine.


Organic Gardening

To garden organically has become more popular over the last few years and this must be partly due to the greater environmental awareness of members of the general public. The aim of the organic gardener is to work with nature rather than against her and so will avoid all artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Instead natural products such as compost and leafmold are used to improve the soil and provide nutrients for the plants. Pests are controlled by encouraging natural predators rather than spraying with chemicals.

Gardening with artificial fertilizers can be regarded as mining the soil because the chemicals supply food for the plants but leave no residue in the soil. As a result fertilizer has to be applied every year to ensure proper plant growth.

When you follow the organic route and incorporate compost into the soil the fertility is built up slowly and the soil structure is improved. This results in a gradual build up of humus and a continuing increase of fertility in the soil.

To be successful you should choose plants that are suitable for your location and conditions. Select pest and disease resistant varieties where possible particularly with your fruit and vegetables.

Controlling pests in an organic garden involves a degree of live and let live. Your aim is to encourage the natural predators such as hoverflies and wasps who will consume large numbers of aphids and other pests. If you use pesticides these will often kill the predators as well and so upset the balance of nature in your garden.

Pests can also be controlled by using barriers and traps. Various types of netting and fleece can be used to protect vegetables and fruit. Traps are useful for slugs and snails, as are other types of barriers such as crushed eggshells or sharp grit. Copper rings are also effective since slugs receive a small electric shock on contact.

The two main ways of dealing with weeds in an organic garden are mulching and hoeing. A three inch thick mulch of compost or other organic material placed on the soil in Spring will block the light and so suppress many weeds. Annual weeds that emerge should be removed with the hoe, preferably on a dry day so that any disturbed seeds are less likely to germinate. Perennial weeds should either be dug out completely or covered with black plastic sheet to block the light.

Organic gardening is about creating the best possible conditions for plants to grow and allowing them to get on with it. In practice, this means you have to accept a certain level of pests and diseases, so that their natural predators have the chance to build up and create a natural balance within your garden.


Garden Gnomes

Garden gnomes are one of those items of yard decor that you either love or hate. While some consider them to be cheap and tacky, more and more people are adding one or two of these cheerful little characters to their gardens. Until a few years ago the lawn jockey was the favorite ornament found in gardens in the south and west, but recently, it seems, the gnome has risen in popularity and now rules supreme.

One explanation for the current fashion for garden gnomes may be that they are always in the news. How often do you read a story in the press about a birdbath or a plastic frog? Open your local paper or make a search on Google and you will always find stories about gnomes being kidnapped, hoards of stolen gnomes being found in strange places and postcards sent from abroad to owners whose gnomes have gone travelling.

Before writing this article, I made a quick search which turned up a story from Sweden about a group of twelve gnomes kidnapped a month ago that had been found standing in a ring in a snowy forest. Another story told of an Auburn woman who is planning to open a museum in her home to show off her collection of more than two thousand different gnomes. An Australian newspaper was shocked to find a shop displaying "Female gnomes in bikinis. With no tops on".

The city of Usti nad Labem in the Czech Republic boasts a "garden gnome study group" attached to its museum's national historical and geographic society. Another group with rather different ideas is the "Garden Gnome Liberation Front" which advocates an end to oppressive gardening and freedom for garden gnomes everywhere. Losing your gnomes can be most upsetting for the owner as is demonstrated in this four minute film called "My Dwarves Have Done a Runner".

With the current popularity of garden gnomes you will not be surprised to learn that there are endless variations of design and quality of the products that are offered for sale. Prices range from $20 for small resin models to over $300 for large handcrafted designs.

In 1977 Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet published "Gnomes" with illustrations from which a family claiming to be the "only authentic Classic Gnomes from the Forest" have been produced. I have recently added a Garden Gnome Gallery to my site with a selection of these figures. Click on one of these and you will be taken to a larger picture with details of the character concerned.


Special Offers

Gardeners Supply have an APS Starter Kit with everything you need to get started growing your own plants from seed. This link gives you $20 off when you spend $50 or more. Your third option is to click the banner. MML Promo

Gurneys have a Giant Asparagus Special which includes 10 Plants Of Each: Jersey King Hybrid Asparagus and Mary Washington Improved Asparagus all for $16.95.



Brecks Bulbs have a Prima Donna Begonia Collection. Giant 6-8" ruffled double blooms stand out atop strong 16-20" stems. You get ten bulbs for just $29.99. Their second new surprise is the Summer Cheer Daffodil with five bulbs for $9.99. Brecks are also offering Free $25 off any order of $50 or more.



Dutch Gardens are trumpeting their Spring Perennials headed by a "New for 2006" Sunset Coneflower. A striking new color and lovely rose scent all for $11.95. $25 off $50


Useful Resources

Following on from my article on organic gardening I have compiled a list of sites that cover this topic.

Organic Gardening offers a free trial of their print magazine but the site also contains a wealth of information on organic topics.

Dirt Doctor is another comprehensive site but you have to register and pay an annual subscription of $24.95. However there is a 30 day free trial.

The Gardener's Network is a general gardening site but the link takes you to their organic gardening page.

My Secret Garden is a personal record of gardening without chemicals or pesticides. The site has not been updated for some time but the information is sound.

This link is the Garden Web Forum for organic gardening. Here you will find questions and answers on every topic under the sun and you can join the discussion.

The final site is the Safer Pest Control Project which is not directly concerned with organic gardening but does emphasise the dangers of certain pesticides and includes a number of downloadable factsheets.


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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