Hal's Hat

Hal's Hat

Friday, July 26, 2013

Capturing the heat....

One of the most fascinating parts of creating a garden is discovering, newly every year, what succeeds against all odds. As a designer, I want to give my clients every opportunity to enjoy THIS time of year. By this, I mean late summer. The cicadas, the start date of the school year in view, the heat, the humidity, the tomatoes, the peppers and eggplants, the mosquitoes and lighting bugs. The argiope spiders! It's the time of year when we begin harvesting what we sowed. It's the time when I remember to surrender to the heat and enjoy the salsa. Iced drinks and fleeting time-- gardens are time catchers. So put objects and plants in them that capture and express the beauty of certain times of year....

Here are some suggestions for plants that make me happy during this fleeting time.

Blackberry Lily--This is an oddball. Used to be rare but I'm seeing it more lately. Actually an iris (Belamcanda chinensis), this guy puts on black berries in the fall and is very decorative. It has very small and airy blooms with that crazy red dot... they don't last long but they sure do tower above everything else and create a real note of contrast!

Echinacea-- This is the prairie favorite. It does require additional water when the drought settles in. But not too much... those seed heads and the purple flower really inspire and delight me.The goldfinches love them in season and in winter! 

Spurge- Pairs very well with the Blackberry lily because this hugs the ground, has the small minty green "needle-like" leaves and a persistent bloom (directly contrasting the Blackberry lily). Spurge is strange- reported to be invasive in livestock fields yet a really, really great landscape plant. Drought tolerant and nearly a succulent.... Odd and wonderful.

Hardy Hibiscus- This is a showy mofo. She's loud and tall and her foliage is great. She's worth the wait! Need I say more?

Tiger Lilies- These came with the house, as far as I remember. As in, they came with the house when my folks bought it in 1979! These are a real lily, 3-4' tall. Now they are in dappled shade but they prefer sun. These small black bulblets are how the plant reproduces!

This montage of awesome are yellow Rudbekia 'Goldsturm' with Lantana (an annual) in front of them. I need to reinforce right here- this is why you plant annuals! The color and the wow when it's hot and dry. Also, behind them, that mass of grey-green is 'Silver Mound' Artemesia. It's stunning.

Here are some extras that are not pictured but so worth it in the late summer: Ninebark "Summer Wine" has amazing burgundy foliage and a great structure. Caryopteris is not quite in bloom yet but I always remember why I love this plant right now. Bright blue blossoms, 3' tall stature, grayish foliage. This is one that wasn't probably as cold tolerant at one time. New varieties are really useful and great.

Also, please enjoy this amazing shrimp/ avocado salsa recipe from the Smitten Kitchen.... hubba hubba!

Here are some garden reminders for this part of the season:

It really is time to divide and replant bearded irises. They go into a summer dormancy. Use you garden fork and lift the rhizomes and divide them. Replant them when it isn't over 90 degrees-- other than that, it's pretty simple!

Warning: the spider mites are out in force. I wrote on the landscape company blog about this topic, so visit there if you're interested. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Vitamin controversy- it comes back again.

I don't even know if I want to set foot into this arena. But given the fact that I write for a small audience, most of whom I know, all of whom know how to get a hold of vitamin/supplement experts (like Tyra at the Merc, myself, etc), I feel like I should say a little.
Over the past month, I've heard the wonk wonk of mainstream media (totally bunko CNN) start the semi-annual banter about vitamins, studies, findings and what is POSSIBLY REALLY BAD FOR YOU. 
I should preface this all with: I do not advocate mega-dosing on anything. You want to? Ok. It's your body. Find out what could happen first. Mega doses of fried fish or chocolate or booze or vitamin C will all do something- find out what could happen!
I also just don't like multi-vitamins. Do you know why? As conspiracy watchers (like Boingboing.net, respectable, smart/nerdy and interesting content btw.) often point out, the vitamin industry is unregulated. Now, what happens next in this convo is that the person says they want the FDA to regulate the vitamin industry. Uhhh, that's stupid. The FDA is barely current on medical devices, nutrition, pharmaceuticals and agriculture. I don't think they have the background, interest or expertise to evaluate vitamins. Leave it to the Europeans. They've done research on this stuff for decades and have great info. Back to multis though: they are based on RDA or recommended daily allowances put forth by the FDA, which is questionable science. The vitamin companies then shove a bunch of lab-made elements into a pill and package it for sale. 
Here is another idea: get a reasonable handle on what smart and healthy folks around you take daily. Get a nutritional evaluation done by a doctor or medical professional (my chiropractor is a nutritionist and can do blood work/ spit kit/ urine test to determine where deficiencies lie). Then read up on how to help those deficiencies. My best guess is that nearly everyone needs vitamin D supplementation and fish oil supplementation, maybe B12. Many other deficiencies can be addressed by radical, positive dietary change. I want to emphasize what is at stake in many of these articles-- everyone should not take vitamins. Everyone should pay attention to nutrition and learn more. The SAD (standard american diet) is very very very nutritionally deficient. If this is what you eat, you will need to supplement to get through your day. Wanh-wanh. 

A brief list of articles mentioning this topic:
CNN about (mostly) megadoses. Gets lots wrong. Is vitamin or supplementation actually Alternative medicine? Hmm, I thought it went with preventative care or health maintenance. 
CNN is at again in a gross misrepresentation of findings about our friend fish oil!
A decent blog rebuttal of this stupid article! She is a breath of fresh air. 

First- always examine your sources. Most mainstream media view vitamins as weird (maybe) necessary pseudo-science (like chiropracty, in fact) and totally news fodder. Traditional doctors are pretty lame at nutrition. NO, NOT ALL DOCTORS (side note: my friend/neighbor's oncologist recommended pro-biotics for him instead of pills to treat stomach issues after chemo and radiation. This is fantastic!). But I've had pediatricians tell me that homeopathy was dangerous, especially for kids. There is proven research from Europe to contest that. "But that tiny amount of caffeine in those Hyland teething tabs is horrible for kids! It'll make them crazy!" Sigh. These are also the doctors who don't know shit about vegan and vegetarian diets. They don't understand how protein works or where to get it, aside from meat. They don't understand the beauty of eggs (really, if you are low in B12, you must not eat many eggs.). Or that there are 2 grams of protein in a serving of kale. That's alot for a vegetable folks. Think on it- brown rice, beans and kale. Add some eggs and you have a lot of available, non-meat protein. 

Second- Remember that every body is different. Your experience of stress is so different than mine! I had a bad time earlier this month, got really stressed out and discovered that I needed some B vitamins. How do I know this? B vitamins are used for energy. They are used by the body to process white flour, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS. I have always, since I was little, required more B6 than the average bear. I'm high strung? I like to drink more caffeine and eat more bread than maybe is good for me? And since I changed my diet to eat less simple carbs, very little flour and less alcohol, I stopped taking B vitamins. I needed help this month and I took it. My symptoms that indicate I'm using more B than I'm ingesting: mouth sores, unhealthy cuticles, energy drops, dark circles under my eyes. [I lost a friend and dealt with it by eating convenience food and drinking more alcohol. Wanh-wanh.] 
To this end, with every body being so different, you really have to do some work on nutritional supplements. I hear so many people railing against vitamins because they feel defrauded. Ok, I hear you on that one. You don't know if you are getting what the bottle says you are getting, no oversite or guarantee there. You feel overwhelmed and goaded by opposing information from media sources. You aren't sure, given these opposing POVs, what you actually need. But reading stuff like this right here will help you start to get a handle on what is happening in every body, what you personally need and what your soft spots are! 

Third- Can you get what you need through an amazing diet? Yes I believe you can. Is food today less nutrient dense? I don't know. I think the sources on this topic are highly biased and I can't find information that I stand by. I'm a horticulturalist. I reinforce my soil with good compost and no pesticides. I eat what I raise on this soil. I buy vegetables from people who do the same thing. I eat meat that was raised on pretty fields and finished with nice grain from those fields. I do what I can. I eat organic fermented dairy. It seems to be fine, in the short term. Perfect? No. Unknowns? Lots. 
Do most people get what they need through their diets? Absolutely not! We eat things from boxes that have had "nutrients" injected into them. This makes me uncomfortable! Did you hear the news that Naked juice has to remove the "all natural" from its label? It was found to contain "... Archer Daniels Midland’s Fibersol-2 (“a soluble corn fiber that acts as a low-calorie bulking agent”), fructooligosaccharides (an alternative sweetener), and genetically modified soy." (worldobserveronline.com/2013/07/20)
That makes me feel lied to and reinforces my belief that the more things I eat with a label, the more dangerously I'm eating. I can just take kale from my garden, add some fruit and some yogurt and make a smoothie. And I won't feel lied to. 

Maybe a lot of this post is opinion.... certainly it is. I'm trying to provide information and not useless ranting, though. I hope you take away this: always examine the sources of competing vitamin rhetoric. Try to find out what you really need before you go off trying to take a ton of vitamins. Give yourself a good hard examination of symptoms, needs, etc. Find a medical person to help with outlining any deficiencies you may have. 
Cover up in the sun- skin cancer is real. Wear a hat! Mineral sunscreen is safest but do what you can. 
Nearly everyone needs more vitamin D than they are getting. Get a test at your doctor's office or a clinic to find out how much you are getting and/or need. 
Read up on fish oil. I believe in it! 
blackberry lily says Heyyyy!
Eat good food. Eat it every damn day. Enjoy yourself while you do! Better food = better nutrition = better functioning body machine. 

Cheerio..... xoxox

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Japanese gardens: design to reality

Instead of posting a didactic blog on Japanese gardens (here's what not to do, here are the basics, blah blah blah), I'll relate my experience, give you the design and then final pictures from the homeowners. It's summer and fun time- let's not be too serious but give ourselves over to pretty plants, cool breezes and cocktails on the patio (lots of bug spray on our ankles).

My clients here are a wonderfully eclectic pair- kids, grandkids, etc. But they have lived in the past in Japan and harbor a deep love of Japanese gardens. (And who doesn't??) But these two also have the unique experience of actually living in Japan, not just visiting or reading the occasional book. They are also fair gardeners. When you look at the pictures, you'll see that Roger and Sharon are also good craftspeople! They built the pond more than a decade ago (at least 15 years they said), Roger built the Tojo gate, they laid the stepping stones themselves. As well, they installed all the plants and mulch and the extensive drip irrigation system!

First step in the process was speaking with my clients, extensively, about their needs and wants. Who would use this? How would this be enjoyed? What activities are going to be done in the back yard? In their case, as well, they had purchased trees, had the existing pond and a small retaining wall/ berm. The idea was to create a cozy, enclosed and private backyard that minimized some of the outside interference. They also wanted a separation from their small lawn into the garden area with a gate. 
From there, I researched Japanese design elements. I knew many Japanese garden favorites. But it's always important to shift plant choices to the climate and culture of the garden where they will live. Roger and Sharon have a backyard that faces east. 
Important elements for me: rock, wood, evergreens, groundcover plants, a curved path. We have no gravel or sand. But we have a body of water and the curved rock path. We also have a bamboo gate. 

Hand colored design:

gate drawing


Roger in his gate: hand tied bamboo.... very lovely! If you would like more information about the design or plant choices, let me know. I can detail them. You get an idea of the plant palette through the design and images, I hope.

--- Laurel