Many Plants Grow Better When They Are Eaten.

Recently a friend forwarded me a link to a New York Times  article talking about how botanists have just discovered that some plant grow better when they are pruned or eaten by animals. Apparently this was totally unknown to science before this and botanists thought that any damage to plants was detrimental.

I was incredulous!

Where have these so called botanists been hiding? In the greenhouse and the laboratory? Obviously not out in the field where the plants grow. Anyone who has spent time outside knows that many plants grow better when they have been eaten or pruned.
Hundreds of ‘how to’ articles are written about as many plants that include phrases like ‘pinch out the tops to create bushing’ or ‘cut plant down to ground to encourage strong growth’.

Botanists don’t think this is damage?

Tulips browsed by deer. Regrowing and still producing flowers. Photo. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,
Tulips browsed by deer. Regrowing and still producing flowers.
Photo. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University,

Anyone who has grown up in the countryside where there are grazing animals will have seen how many plants get stronger usually shorter and bushier when animals eat them. I grew up in rural England and I noticed this by the time I was six years old. Many plants, especially those you did not want like thistles grew stronger when the sheep and cows eat them. It was common knowledge everywhere. Now I live in the United States I see how many plants in our fields grow stronger and bushier after the deer have been through and eaten them off. Horseweed especially gets bushy and produces far more flowers than if left alone to grow tall and produce just one flower stalk. I just wish the deer would eat the plant to the ground rather than letting it grow into a bush. Top browsed plants are a lot stronger and much harder to pull out than the non eaten ones.

It is true that many plants don’t do well with browsing. These tend to be the ornamental plants that we bring home from the nursery. Ones that have been bred to have large flowers and no defenses. They are grown in our gardens which are not areas where they are native so they don’t know how to cope with the local herbivores.

Deer eaten Echinacea
This deer decimated Echinacea plant will regrow from the roots. It will flower later than its non eaten companions it will also be shorter and flower stems will also be short, but it may produce more flowers. These plants are resilient.

For most people this is never a problem since they put there plants into suburban gardens and they bloom wonderfully enhancing the landscape and making the garden beautiful. These plants never see a predator (large plant eating animal) so these plants are soft. Put the same plants in a rural area where there are deer or rabbits and they will get eaten to the ground and most likely not recover. They are not used to it. Some will come back stronger but not that many. If this is where the botanists have been concentrating their knowledge then of course they will think that plants don’t like being eaten. But like all scientists they should get outside the laboratory and look at the real world. Any farmer who has livestock will tell you that a lot of plants grow strong and bushy if eaten. Most often they are not ones that the farmer wants but they still know about them. It’s something you just learn, it does not take a degree to figure out, I suspect, like me, they see it from a very young age and just accept it as part of the plants life.

Many plants we grow also fall into this category. Often people prune shrubs and certainly herbs to make them bush out and produce more bulk. This includes a lot of herb plants. Most people know that if they cut down their basil or parsley plant it will grow back up again. Cut many plants to the ground and they will come back stronger. It’s common garden knowledge.

So how come the botanists think they have just discovered something? I guess it would never occur to them just to ask any keen gardener or a farmer.

18 reasons to grow CINNAMON BASIL.

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’

  1. It’s a really pretty plant. Even if you don’t want to eat it.
  2. It makes a wonderful ornamental
  3. Very easy to grow from seed
  4. The flowers are really pretty unlike other basils where the flowers can get spindly
  5. Has a lovely color. Bright green leaves with purple stems
  6. The flower stalks are dark burgundy and really contrast with the leaves
  7. Smells wonderful!!!!
  8. Tastes great, with a real cinnamon flavor
  9. The deer don’t eat it, unlike Genovese basil which they seem to like.
  10. Rabbits and woodchucks don’t eat it either.
  11. Can be harvested all season long and comes back strongly.
  12. Does not grow as tall as sweet basil, It’s more compact, does not get leggy if left untended.
  13. More bushy nature
  14. Can tolerate some shade and still produce great leaves and flowers
  15. Will stay producing leaves until killing frost, often tolerates light frost.
  16. Leaves can be frozen for later use. Just wrap in cling film and freeze
  17. Can be grown as an indoor pot plant. Needs bright window.
  18. Great for decks and hanging baskets.

Like all basils cinnamon basil does not refrigerate well. All basils tend to wilt and go brown when refrigerated so use immediately or freeze leaves for later use.

Detailed information about growing cinnamon basil

Cinnamon basil seeds.

Low Rainfall Means Less Mold, So It’s Bug Party Time!

What Do You Call An Insect Drunk Flyer?


With higher temperatures across the northeast fruits and vegetables are ripening faster than normal. Insects are having a wonderful time and breeding yet another generation of bugs to plague the crops. Fruit that normally is insect free this year is, in some cases being infested with bugs and late growing maggots. So the crops are not harvestable. This is a problem for the farmer in several ways.

  1. He looses the crop, that means he has less money than expected this year.
  2. He can’t get the crop off the bushes it just has to stay there and rot for the most part paying workers to pick unmarketable fruit is a waste of money. There is no mechanical way to pick it so its going to just sit there.
  3. The dry weather means that the fruit is not rotting because mold only develops when there is some moisture. Fruit may have maggots but its not rotting.
  4. The absence of mold means that yeast can proliferate more. These will eat the crops and just like in beer they product alcohol. So the fruit is not rotting its fermenting!

Guess what? Insects like alcohol too! Fermenting fruit is a delight that is going to draw insects in for the party of the year. The hot weather can also cause the nectar in later blooming flowers to ferment too.

Yellowjackets/hornets and flies on fermenting plum.
Yellowjackets/hornets and flies on fermenting plum.

Do bugs get drunk? They sure do. It can be fun to watch bugs drinking fermented nectar and then weaving off on a very wobbly flight path after leaving the flower or fruit. As a child I used to love watching the bees drink the fermented nectar from our Sedum flowers and then fly off all over the place. With other insects is harder to tell if they are drunk. How can you tell if an ant is drunk? I don’t know they weave around even when they are sober, but a lot of them can still bite.

Problem is that a drunk stinging insect is like a drunk driver, they don’t know what they are doing. They can crash into you and then get annoyed and sting for no reason. Drunk insects can be a real danger from the stinging perspective. Drunk bees are usually not too bad since when a bee stings it dies so even a drunk bee tends to be a little concerned but if she is very drunk then she might just sting without thinking about the consequences. (All forager bees are female).

Paper wasp has a nasty sting and can sting repeatedly.
Paper wasp has a nasty sting and can sting repeatedly.

Drunk yellow jackets or hornets are a different matter. They can sting to their hearts content so drunk ones can be quite unpredictable and just sting because they feel like it. Non flying insects are not such a problem. They might run up your legs and bite you but its not as likely, unless you are near aggressive ants, but they wild do that drunk or sober.

Your best option is to stay away from areas where there is ripening fruit or plants that have lots of nectar at this time of year. Don’t let young children near these areas. Just like my mother would not let me close to our sedum plants when the nectar was fermenting don’t let children or pets near them now. Drunken insects can be nasty.

Will there be a rise in food prices because of the hurricanes?

This year has been disastrous for the US with Hurricane damage, first Texas, then Florida and then Puerto Rico. While almost everyone in the US is concerned about the people effected by these hurricanes many don’t realize just how much its might effect them too. Most of us have already seen a rise in gas prices because of the refineries in Texas but less noticeable, as yet, is the migrant worker effect.

Many jobs in agriculture are seasonal. Farmers only need workers during the growing and harvesting seasons so they employ migrant workers who come into the country especially to work these jobs and then go home in the winter months. These workers are essential to get almost all of our vegetable and fruit crops harvested and shipped to the supermarkets for everyone to buy. A large proportion of these workers come from either Mexico or Puerto Rico. Here in the northeast for the past few years a lot of the workers have been coming in from Puerto Rico. After the Hurricane disaster all these workers have gone home to help their families and be with loved ones. This is of course exactly what you would expect them to do. Other workers from Mexico have who have families in the Earthquake areas have also gone home to be with their families. This has left very few migrant workers for the remaining harvesting of vital fresh foods.

Farmers are now scrambling to find workers to help with the harvest of the remaining crops. The unusually warm weather which is also an influence of the hurricane has extended the season providing a longer growing period but also ripening crops a lot faster than would normally happen at this time of the year. Produce does not wait, farmers have to work to the plants schedule not the other way around. However with so few workers to do the harvesting much of these crops is being left in the fields. Many farmers are now considering that crops may have to be abandoned and ploughed under because there are no workers to bring the crops in. This may cause an increase in the price of fruits and vegetables since there will be less available on the market, its all rotting in the fields.

Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?
Will the price of vegetables rise because farmers cannot harvest crops?

Many may ask why use migrant workers rather than home grown Americans? Simple. It’s almost impossible to get home grown Americans to do the job. The migrants are the only ones willing to do harder physical labor which is very hard work outside in often unpleasant weather conditions for fairly low wages. Agricultural jobs do not pay high rates farmers cannot afford it because the profit margin on fresh produce is very low. Consumers will not pay very high prices for fruits and vegetables everyone wants low prices. Low prices translate into low wages to grow and harvest the crops. Ask almost any farmer they will tell you without migrant workers there will be no food in Americans supermarkets. This year the prices may be higher. If such devastating weather continues in the future its certain we will see a rise in prices.

Dealing With Japanese Stiltgrass.

A nasty invasive you dont want in your yard.

Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) is a nasty invasive plant that is taking over huge tracks of our countryside. It prefers semi shaded and shaded areas so it is has less other plants to deal with and is effortlessly replacing them all as the main woodland undergrowth. For those who dont know its dangers it looks pretty amazing. Walk through a woodland and you see all this lush green grass growing under the trees. The trouble is that is all you will see. There is absolutely nothing else growing there but Japanese stiltgrass. It takes over everything and smothers out all the native plants that should be growing in the woodland.

Japanese Stiltgrass has totally taken over this woodland.
Japanese Stiltgrass has totally taken over this woodland.

The other problem is that native animals, mainly deer, dont like to eat stiltgrass. They prefer the native species. So they will wade through the stiltgrass searching out the few remaining pieces of native vegetation and eating that. This is great for the stiltgrass since it ensures that any competition that it might have is removed and it has a free rain to take over without much chance of being eaten. Before long all our woodlands in the northeast will have nothing but stiltgrass as undergrowth.

Native grass woodland, what it should look like.
Native grass woodland, what it should look like.

Stiltgrass will also invade lawns. This always happens from the shady edges under trees shrubs or at the edge of woodlands. Stiltgrass will begin to encroach on a lawn and can eventually take over these areas entirely. Stiltgrass is rarely a problem in full sun areas as it always prefers the shade.

Stiltgrass is semi shaded woodland area.
Stiltgrass is semi shaded woodland area.

Stiltgrass is an annual plant. Think of it like a really invasive crabgrass. It flowers drops seed and then comes up again next year just like crabgrass. While crabgrass spreads out in a circle stiltgrass spreads by jumping It creates a long stem with a bend like an elbow joint in it. Where the elbow touches the ground new roots sprout and the grass moves across the ground. This is why its called stiltgrass. Left alone stiltgrass will grow to about 3feet in height but can reach 4 or more and produce an airy fluffy look that can be quite attractive. Often homeowners find the grass growing in their woodland areas, think its nice and are often happy that something is growing on the ground there. Its left alone and before long its marching out to take over the lawn, by that time its too late to control it.

Stiltgrass flower
Stiltgrass flower

Like crabgrass stiltgrass produces a lot of seeds, but they are pretty tiny and not as easy to see as crabgrass. One plant can produce as many as thousand seeds in a year. These seeds fall to the ground and can then remain viable there for five or more years. They are also pretty sticky they will attach to shoes, pet fur, and wild animals and are easily transported over fairly long distances to reach new areas to colonize. Seeds are produced around August in zone 7 (New Jersey), but can be earlier or later depending on your location.

Once in a good spot they will germinate in the early spring, about the same time as crabgrass. Like crabgrass stiltgrass seeds need light to germinate this is why they do so well in forests where there is usually quite a lot of bare ground during the springtime. It’s also why crabgrass cant do well on a healthy lawn. If the grass blades are close together the seeds can’t get to soil that light falls on and they can’t germinate.

Controlling stiltgrass is a lot more of a problem because it tends to come in from the shady parts of the lawn and from under the trees. Lawn grasses tend not to do as well in such areas and the grass is often spotty and there is more bare ground for the stiltgrass to germinate on. Once it takes hold it will smother out other grasses. Mowing the stiltgrass down only makes it strong and forces it to flower at a much shorter height. It does not remove the problem.

Controlling stiltgrass.
Its most likely going to be a never ending problem. Once you have a woodland area that is prone to stiltgrass unless you can find a ground cover for your woodland, then its going to get more stiltgrass coming in. If you live next to or near a wild area that has a stiltgrass infestation then you will most likely be battling stiltgrass forever. There is no known way to eradicate it.
There are however several techniques you can use to keep it out of your garden.


There are several options.
1. A pre emergent crabgrass killer can be applied to stop the seeds from germinating. The problem with this method is that nothing else will germinate either. If you are intending to plant the area with more mature plants or plug plants this method may work well. It will take some time and the pre emergent may have to be applied for several years to ensure that all the seeds are inhibited. It is also important that the area around is monitored if there is stiltgrass close to your location then it will re-infect the area constantly unless the ground is well covered with vegetation.

2. Hand pulling. Allow the stiltgrass to grow to a reasonable height then go through and hand pull. It is important that this be done before the plant has set seed. This method will need to be applied over several years to ensure that all the seed has been removed but eventually it will be eradicated provided it is not reintroduced from other areas.

3. Flame Weeding. A flame weeder can be used to burn off the plants when they are small. However if you chose to use this method there are several safety factors to consider.
a. All ground vegetation must be removed. Using a flame weeder amongst leaf or pine leaf litter will set the whole woodland on fire.
b. Use only when the stiltgrass is very small. Flame weeders do not work well on larger weeds they must be small. Using on a large plant again, may set the woodland on fire.
c. Always ensure you have a good supply of water with you to put out any fires before they start.

4. Weed killer. While many sources will suggest the use of weed killers its not the best option. The most common weed killer is roundup (Glyphosate). This material while effective at killing weeds is very toxic, it has been proven to cause cancer in humans and it not only kills the weeds that you put it on but kills everything in the soil that it is sprayed on. This basically sterilizes the soil making it very hard for any other plants to live there. It does not make for a healthy lawn, garden and especially not a healthy woodland.
While there are other weed killers available none seem to have much effect on stiltgrass.


In ideal locations Japanese Stiltgrass can reach four feet in height.
In ideal locations Japanese Stiltgrass can reach four feet in height.

Shady areas and woodlands.
Controlling the stiltgrass in woodlands will take quite a lot of effort but it can be achieved.

If the stiltgrass has totally taken over the woodland its going to be hard to stop it. If there is just some stiltgrass then hand pulling each plant as it appears is the best option. If there is a large infestation then hand pull any plants that appear outside this to prevent it from spreading.

During the winter months when nothing is growing go into the woodland area and rake the ground. It is important to remove any dead branches, large twigs and leaf litter at this time so that the area can be worked in the summer months without danger of falling over obstacles that cannot be seen through the stiltgrass vegetation.

Remove the stiltgrass using one or more of the above options. Remember this may have to be repeated for several years before all the stiltgrass is eradicated.
In a woodland setting the important consideration is what to cover the ground with once the stiltgrass is gone. If the ground remains bare then the stiltgrass will take hold again. This can be quite difficult since a lot of native woodland plants tend to come up in the spring and then vanish once the leaf canopy unfolds and the light levels reduce. Stiltgrass does not so finding something that will grow at this time is not always easy especially if you want to keep your spring flowering natives.
Often this can be achieved with the use of native grasses, ferns or other material. See if you can find a native plant nursery in your area and talk to them about what plants would be best to us. Once your new plants are installed ensure that the area is constantly checked and any small stiltgrass plants are removed to ensure that a new infestation does not occur.

Shady Lawns.
If you have a lawn that is in a shady spot that is getting overrun with stiltgrass then you may have to consider removing the lawn. Most grasses, except stiltgrass, dont do well in shady areas. Its almost impossible to create the dense thick covering that is required to stop stiltgrass from germinating. The best option is to replace the grass with something else.

Short mown stiltgrass. It has still taken over this area and beaten out all other grasses.
Short mown stiltgrass. It has still taken over this area and beaten out all other grasses.

You can try seeding the area with some other low growing plant or adding other plants to your lawn such as clover. While this will not give you the monoculture you might desire it will help to keep the ground covered and with clover it will also fix nitrogen that will help feed the lawn grass and make it stronger and thicker.

Remove the lawn entirely and replace it with a ground cover plant. Things like pacasandra work very well. It produces a dense canopy that the stiltgrass cannot penetrate and provides a low growing cover that will keep the stiltgrass at bay. If you dont like this plant they talk to your local garden center or nursery and see if they can suggest something else that will grow in your area.

Semi shaded lawns.
For areas that are on the edge of sunshine it may be possible to re-establish a good grass lawn. Provided that the shade area behind it has all the stiltgrass removed from it.
Mowing down the stiltgrass will not control it just cause it to set seed as a much lower height. The plants must be removed. Use one of the methods above to remove the stiltgrass. We tend to recommend the use of a flame weeder as being the best option. These can be purchase fairly inexpensively at Harbor Freight stores. Just take care when using one and ensure that there is no combustible material that can cause the garden to catch fire.

Ensure that you have a good grass seed that will grow in a semi shaded area. Work on and seed your grass in the fall NOT the spring. This will allow the grass seed to become established over the winter months are reduce the amount of bare ground that the stiltgrass has to grow on. In spring allow your grass in this are to grow slightly longer than normal to help shade the ground and to show up any stiltgrass plants that grow. Pull these out by hand. It may be tedious for the first few years as all the seeds germinate but eventually it will be eradicated.

Whatever method you choose to remove stiltgrass the main thing to remember is that this invasive is here to stay. If you dont want it in your garden they you will need to be vigilant. If it is here now then it will return from wherever those first seeds came from. Now you know what to look for you can walk around and spot the plants as they come up and quickly remove them. This is going to be an ongoing battle that will never end. You can never truly win but you can keep it under control.


Pycnanthemum virginianum

  1. Will grow almost anywhere.
  2. Produces lots of flowers later in the year than many other plants
  3. It’s a perennial, comes back every year.
  4. The bees and other pollinators love it
  5. Butterflies love it too
  6. It gives pollen and nectar at a time of the year when there is not a lot else for them to eat.
  7. Its edible.  Leaves taste like slightly mild peppermint
  8. Can be used instead of peppermint.
  9. Flowers are also edible and can be used to decorate salads,  desserts etc.
  10. It’s a native American plant
  11. Grows taller than regular mint, around four feet.
  12. Will take semi shade, but does like full sun.
  13. Flowers first year from seed.
  14. Flowers for long period of time (usually 1-2 months)
  15. Don’t need to water it
  16. It does not spread and take over like regular mint
  17. Stays fairly compact, plants increase in size over time.
  18. Does not need much maintenance once its established.  (Cut down when dies back in fall to make next year look smarter)
  19. Not fussy about soil type, will grow almost anywhere
  20. As long as the soil does not get waterlogged it will grow
  21. Hardy to zone 5, some reports say zone 4
  22. Deer don’t eat it
  23. Rabbits don’t eat it.
  24. Coyotes don’t eat it (they will decimate real peppermint)
  25. Will self seed but not very prolifically
  26. Great for back borders
  27. Great for areas where not a lot else grows.
  28. Good for meadows too
  29. Ideal for any garden.  Plant it , leave it and enjoy the flowers.

Detailed growing information and seeds.

Cascade of flowering mountain mint plants (Pycnanthemum virginianum ) in our field.
Cascade of flowering mountain mint plants (Pycnanthemum virginianum ) in our field.
Close up Mountain Mint flowers (Pycnanthemum virginianum )
Close up Mountain Mint flowers (Pycnanthemum virginianum )

Fun with your lawn.

It’s not just grass. It can be an art canvas for you to express yourself.

When I was a child of about 5 or 6 for a short while we lived in a suburban house on the outskirts of a small town. We had a front lawn, it’s hard to remember how big it was – things always seem bigger when you are a child – but by American standards it was pretty small. Anyone who has been to England knows front yards are usually not that large.

For some reason my Dad had not cut the front lawn for a while. The grass was about 6 inches long. I went out to play on the lawn and didn’t like how long it was. (We have no ticks in England so its never a worry playing in the grass.) I went and got the sheers from the garage and cut myself a circle in the grass that I could sit in.

Once I was done I sat there a little while and thought what I had done was pretty neat. Never one to sit idle for long I decide to expand my neat idea so I cut a short pathway from the circle and set about making a square that joined to the circle by the path. While I was working the kids from next door arrived and looked over the wall at me, asked what I was doing.

I was a pretty imaginative kid so by that time I had made up some story. I have no idea now what it was now, it was a long time ago but whatever it was they liked it and asked if they could come sit in my circle. For some reason sitting in a cut circle surrounded by 6 inch grass seemed like a really great thing to do. They were delighted. By time I had finished my square more kids had arrived. They wanted to join in too. They sat in the square, the changed with the other kids to sit in the circle. Meanwhile I started on another path to a triangle. My best friend Jimmy from next door really took to the idea so he went and got his fathers shears and came to help me.
Pretty soon we had a whole bunch of kids sitting in geometric shapes connected by little pathways. Everyone thought this was a really great thing to do for the afternoon.
Looking back on it, I guess maybe I had invented a ‘crop circle’ or perhaps even an early corn maze. Pity I did not remember this earlier and capitalize on it.

Geometric patterns in our lawn. These were accidental cuts from necessity not art. But someday when I have time&.
Geometric patterns in farm our lawn. These were accidental cuts from necessity not art. But someday when I have time…..

It fascinated me why everyone was so delighted to come sit in geometric shapes in the grass. Perhaps it was because it was different. Everyone likes something new to do. We did not have internet and game boys in those days and had to make our own fun.

My mother however was not amused by my beautiful geometric lawn. When she looked out the window and saw 25 or more kids sitting on the lawn she came out and yelled at us, chased off my ‘customers’ and I got punished. I never really understood why. Heck Jimmy and I had cut more than half the lawn by time she found us and we had done it all for free.

Apparently (She claimed) we had ruined any chance of have ‘stripes’ on the lawn since most of it was now cut. Personally I think she considered it accentuated that fact that they had not cut the lawn in a while and that would show them up to the neighbours. She made Dad cut the grass down that very night and obliterated my geometric patterns. I thought my punishment was unjust – and still do all this time later. What I had done was quickly eradicated and the lawn was certainly in better condition than the time the cows got out of the field down the road and ended up on our lawn. That was a real mess. Twenty or more cows on your lawn does not do it much good except for a little free fertilizer.

What made me think of this is our lawn today. Farming in August is a busy occupation and cutting the lawn gets pushed to the bottom of the list. Looking at my lawn made me remember that far off day. We have a lot more lawn now and sometimes, like now it gets too long and we only have time to mow pathways through it to get to the important areas like the hoop houses the fields and pathways for hoses and cables that we don’t want lost in the grass. Sometimes we accidently end up with geometric patterns. Its nothing like as neat as the stuff I created as a child but this is more utilitarian than art. Interestingly I have seen that animals also prefer our mown pathways. Our cat always sticks to the paths and gets annoyed if we don’t cut one to our little pond for him. The turkeys like them too often sticking to the paths to get down the fields to peck at insects.

Grass labyrinth. Something anyone can do and have fun with.
Grass labyrinth. Something anyone can do and have fun with.

We never have stripes in our lawn, mostly I think because half of it is not grass, it’s weeds. Our lawn is ‘short green stuff’ not grass. I don’t really believe in artificial monocultures and certainly don’t have time, or the money, to fuss over a perfect lawn. Stripes are only possible if you have a strong monoculture because they are created by the bending of the grass blades and how they reflect the light. Bent towards you they are dark away from you they are light giving you light and dark stripes as the mower goes up and down the lawn. You can get pretty fancy with the stripes if you want to and some pretty nice patterns can be made.

Delightful flowers that never stop blooming. These were cut and burnt into the lawn for more permanence.
Delightful flowers that never stop blooming. These were cut and burnt into the lawn for more permanence.

The potential of cutting shapes, patterns or even pictures into the grass is much more interesting and has a lot of potential for everyone. Using grass as your art canvas has great possibilities. First it does not have to be a perfect monoculture, having weeds and clover in your lawn wont matter. In fact if you have a pattern cut into it most likely no one will notice what the lawn consists they will just see the artwork you created. So instead of striving for a perfect monoculture of grass turn your front yard into an artwork. Cut shapes, patterns, whatever you want into the grass. Don’t let it get too long or the pattern wont show up but the lawn is a magnificent place to try out any artwork. Don’t like it, no problem mow it down and have another go next week!

How about a giant smiley face to brighten your neighbourhood.
How about a giant smiley face to brighten your neighbourhood.

Perhaps we can create a new American past time art on your lawn. Everyone can show off their artistic side. It will give everyone something to do and will cost a lot less to maintain since there will no longer be a need for lots of nasty chemicals to create an unnatural monoculture. You can add clover to the lawn to help feed it nitrogen instead of chemicals. Everyone in the family can create designs and front yards can become more than just a chore to cut. Done right you wont have to pay you kids to cut the lawn they will be eager to create their newest artwork.

Ultimate in lawn sculpture and a true work of art.
Ultimate in lawn sculpture and a true work of art.  The Mona Lisa lawn


18 Reasons to grow BUTTERFLY WEED

Asclepias tuberosa interior

  1. It has amazing orange gold flowers that really stand out.
  2. Blooms last quite a long time.
  3. It’s a perennial will come back year after year
  4. Deer don’t eat it, neither do rabbits.
  5. Hardy to zone 3 it’s a tough plant.
  6. Butterflies love it
  7. Native bees like it too
  8. Humming birds adore the flowers
  9. Makes a good cut flower
  10. Grows almost anywhere in full sun provided soil is well drained
  11. Fairly drought tolerant
  12. It’s a native plant to North America always good to grow natives
  13. It needs almost no care once you planted it
  14. Just plant and leave it alone, does not like to be moved has a large tap root.
  15. You can eat the shoots like asparagus (make sure you cook them don’t eat the raw)
  16. It’s also a food source for Monarch butterflies so don’t pick off any caterpillars. Save the Monarchs!
  17. Sap from this plant is clear and non toxic so it’s safe for children and pets (unlike some other milkweeds)
  18. The flowers are wonderful (oh yeah, I mentioned that but they are really great!)

Detailed growing information and seeds.

If you love plants then you gotta see this!

Sculptures made totally of living, growing plants.

It’s called Mosaiculture. It’s the art of making sculptures from all living, growing plants. These exhibits tend to be on for a fairly long time so keeping the plants strong healthy and most importantly trimmed so that they don’t overgrow the sculpture is a full time job for a whole bunch of garden staff.

Mosaiculture is a very different from any other form of gardening or sculpture it combines the two. It’s not topiary which is forming sculptures and animals from living shrubs that are pretty much permanent. Mosaiculture is temporary for the most part and a corroboration of both sculptures, metalworkers and horticulture.
First there is the design. This can be anything from a man on a horse to a giant woman’s face. Once the design is decided then the ironworkers determine how to create the structure, the build a steel framework welded together. For smaller sculptures this is all one piece. For the larger ones they are created in several pieces and a crane is used to move the heavy sections together at the exhibition site. They are then bolted together to form the whole sculpture.

Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture
Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture

Once the structure had been created it is wrapped in water holding material usually a sphagnum moss mixed with soils and nutrients which are covered in a cloth that is stapled in place with very heavy staples. Some structures also contain complex irrigation systems within the sculptures to water and nurture the plants. However supplemental surface watering is also carried out especially in hot sunny weather.
Once the structure has been completed the painstaking task of installing all the living plants begins. From trial and error over many years Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal (MIM)  has determined the best plants to use. These are usually annuals that come in a variety of different colors but also grow well when kept short and can be easily trimmed and maintained to ensure that the sculptures always look their best. MIM is one of the only companies in the world that does this work so its not surprising that most of the exhibits tend to be in Canada.

Fox and her kit mosaiculture
Fox and her kit mosaiculture. The use of grasses for the fluffy tail is delightful.

This year the Mosaiculture exhibit is in Ottawa Canada. Well, actually it’s in Gatineau which is right across the river from Ottawa. So if you want to visit and fly in then Ottawa is where you want to head for. This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary so to celebrate admission to the exhibit is free! Usually there is a charge to see such amazing sculptures so this years a really great deal. If you have never been to Ottawa then there is a treat in store too. It’s a totally enchanting city with masses of things going on and some majestic buildings and museums.

This is our forth Mosaiculture exhibit and its always a joy to see. If you choose to go, please take the time to appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into these superb sculptures. Its not just the design of the actual sculpture its also all the plants that surround it. These plants create a scene.

Lobster fisherman at sea
Lobster fisherman on sea. Note how well the plants have been used to create frothing waves.

One of my favorites this year was the lobster fisherman. The detail that went into creating the boat and the fisherman and lovely but the sculpting of the earth to plant the Scaevola and blue petunias that mix with dusty miller to form waves on the sea. The whole concept makes the sculpture come alive and is truly delightful.

The delightful use of the long fluffy grasses to create the coat of the musk oxen makes the whole sculpture that much more delightful. Who doesn’t want to take this fluffy thing home with them?

Musk Oxen on tundra
Musk Oxen on tundra

Another of my great favorites was the tundra scene dominated by a large inukshuk, (pronounced in-ook-shook) which is an Inuit (once called Eskimo) creation. These stone monuments are created by the Inuit to help guide them through their arctic wilderness. Here the inukshuk is depicted with a wolf howling up at the northern lights spread across the face of the inukshuk. The whole sculpture is lovely but is made even more so by the wonderful tundra that has been created for it to sit upon. Using red moss roses dusty miller, grasses and other plants to create a colorful landscape it gives the sculpture far more drama. I loved the tundra landscaping here almost as much as the sculpture itself.

Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk
Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk. The foreground tundra is superb and so colorful.

The tundra area ranged over a larger area to encompass the musk oxen, polar bear (not pictured here) and the Indian drum dancer as well as the inukshuk. Like to ocean scene earlier in the walk encompassed several different sculptures such as the whale shark, puffins and ships discovering Canada with the horses bursting from the sea as the made their way to the shore.

Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada.
Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada. The dusty miller and Scaevola make stunning foaming ‘water’ cascading off the horses back.

Of course there is always Gaia the mother earth goddess. This sculpture appears in some form in every Mosaiculture exhibit it’s the recurring theme and the most commonly depicted and shared. Its certainly impressive but on its fourth iteration I am far more impressed by other newer offerings.

Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture
Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture. Makes use of petunias and red and lime green potato vines to create her cascading hair.

Mosaiculture is also beloved in China where many of the techniques originated and each time there is an exhibit the Chinese usually produce a sculpture. This year they produced two very complex and totally magnificent ones. The first from Beijing really needs to be studied to understand it.

Dragons in the Rocky mountains
Complex sculpture depicting Dragons in the Rocky mountains

The first impression of course of the giant dragons that reach skyward rising high above the rest of the sculpture. Beneath are the dragon dancers holding the dragons aloft on long sticks just as in real life in dragon dancing. These dancers however are interwoven with small mountain peaks which depict the rocky mountains where a great many Chinese worked to create the railways that were so important to early America and Canada. This railway is depicted in red and white begonias emerging from a tunnel in one of the mountains on the left side of the picture.

Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.
Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.

Then there are the lions from Shanghai! Wow what a display! A massive complex Mosaiculture to rival anything I have every seen. The largest one at the exhibit it has nine Chinese lions in various poses on stylistic clouds, one dancing on a ball along with a Chinese circle with decorative swirls all fronted by lovely flower beds. This display is truly awe-inspiring. It uses far more plant variety that the other sculptures with the use for fluffy grasses to depict the lions fur and even the unseen underbellies of the lions have been planted with more shade loving annuals. The time taken to create this exquisite sculpture is mind boggling. While I really liked a lot of the other sculptures this was my favorite because of its size, complexity and delightful use of so many different plants to create such a wonderful sculpture, plus I really like Chinese lions.

Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai
Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai. This stunning sculpture is enhanced by marigolds and begonias in the foreground giving it even more color.

While not the most impressive Mosaiculture exhibit I have seen yet – that prize must go to Mosaïcultures Internationales Montréal 2013 at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. This exhibit was much larger and more impressive, plus the setting the botanical gardens offered much better backdrops to the sculptures where there is no distraction of high rise apartment buildings, hotels and bridges.
The first mosaicultures were held at the Montreal waterfront with a backdrop of grain silos, but somehow this seemed better and more fitting that apartment blocks. However focus on the sculptures and the buildings don’t matter.
Sadly almost all the Mosaiculture exhibits tend to be in Canada, most often in Montreal. Others have been held in China (2006), Japan (2009) and Turkey (2016). The only exhibit in the U.S. was in Atlanta botanical gardens in 2013-14. Most commonly these exhibits seem to be held every 2-3 years so if you want to see one then head to Ottawa this year. Next time it may be a lot further away and less accessible. Only some of the exhibits are pictured here so go see the others for yourself.  It’s really a site worth seeing and should not be missed.

Killer whale
Killer whale
indian drum dancer
indian drum dancer

Think carefully before you use chemicals in the garden.

You may destroy the singing trees.

It’s midsummer so it’s been pretty hot and sunny in recent weeks but of course this is the time when most farm work has to be done. After one particularly hard harvesting day earlier this week I was relaxing with my workers under the tree eating some lovely cold watermelon and enjoying the quiet. I mentioned how quiet it was to the guys.

One of them waved up at the trees with his fork and said.
”Trees not singing.”

I knew immediately what he meant. There were no cicadas singing in the trees. We usually have cicadas singing my mid July and with all the hot weather we have had this year which would speed up the larva development into adults they should have been out sooner but here we are in early August and still not one singing tree.

Where have all the cicadas gone?

Gone the way of the bees and the other insects , no doubt about it. Since these new pesticides came along the number of insects we have good bad or indifferent has plummeted. While we are go well beyond organic farming and use absolutely no chemicals at all that does not mean that our neighbors dont use them.

The problem is that bugs fly around. That can be a good and bad thing. Its bad if you dont want a pest in your garden or in our case farm and dont want them flying in from outside to infest your crops. However the flipside is that if you have good and beneficial bugs or bees on your property you dont really want them flying off to some other farm to get zapped by their nasty chemicals. Sadly unless you have a really BIG farm which these days are only owned by massive corporations who dont care about the bees, then its impossible to have enough land to keep the good insects on your property and not straying into areas that are dangerous to them.

The farmer on our eastern side is a soy bean farmer. He plants soy beans every year, and has done since we bought the farm. Never gets a really good crop from it (surprise, surprise) but he dutifully puts on his chemical fertilizer and then sprays his field later in the year. Even though we have a thick line of trees and vegetation between us and his field if he chooses to spray on a day when the wind is blowing then something is likely to reach towards us. Plus bees and other insects are bound to go and investigate the flowers once they start to bloom.

A new farmer has started working on the other side of the road too. Fortunately he is farther away from our fields because I suspect he uses more and different sprays than the soy bean farmer. So if our healthy bees and bugs fly around and if they decide to go check out his field when he sprays or go anywhere near it or get caught downwind of it then they are gonna die.

Is this a good thing? Personally I dont think so. Sure we get rid of a few pest species and produce absolutely perfect looking vegetables and fruit but what is the true cost? Killing every bug for a mile around your spray area is not good practice. There are a lot more helpful and useful bugs than there are harmful ones and even though most people dont like creepy crawly bugs we really could not live without them. Bees are only the tip of the iceberg. We have no idea what the repercussions of killing a lot of other different species off will be to us. What I see happening is the tough unwanted insects that often do more damage, like ants, survive and the more delicate, beautiful and useful ones are wiped out.

swallowtail butterfly
Most people want to see pretty ‘bugs’ like this swallowtail butterfly in their gardens.

Think carefully before you use chemicals in the garden.
Dont assume that its all farmers doing this damage to the insects. Homeowners are a major use of chemicals and toxic products and often use them in much higher concentrations that farmers do. Sadly so many people have no idea how dangerous and damaging such chemicals can be. Just because its freely available purchase and easy to come by does not mean its not toxic to humans, pets, wild animals and all the other bugs not just the few that you are trying to kill. Please think very carefully before using any chemical on your plants. Dont just spray the plant as a precaution or because it looks sick. Make sure you know what is wrong with it and how to treat the particular problem before reaching for the chemicals. Dont just kill bugs because they are there. Not liking bugs around your property is not a reason to grab the chemicals and kill them. Dont spray just because you can and NEVER spray if there is any wind at all. It can get the chemicals on you, your family as well as your neighbors and even homes half to a full block away. One person with a can do a lot of damage with a single spray bottle of toxic chemicals.

If you have planted a diverse garden less chemicals or often no chemicals at all will be necessary. The more different flowering plants you have the more likely it will be that you dont get pests other insects are only too happy to come and eat them up. Most bugs are not interested in you and just want to go about their little lives without bothering anyone, or in a lot of cases joyfully chomping down on the nasty pests that are in your garden. Remember also that those annoying caterpillars that eat your plants can turn into beautiful butterflies so think hard before you pick them all of you plants and kill them.

swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
If you want swallowtail butterflies then don’t kill off the larva. Leave the caterpillars alone so you get to enjoy the butterflies.

Our farm is just not the same in the summer without the singing of the cicadas. To me they are the sound of summer and working in the fields to a orchestra of cicada song makes the job more enjoyable. Cicadas dont do any damage to crops, most people never even get to see one since they live up in the trees. Most people are have more experience with cicada killer wasps, and often are afraid of these gentle creatures that do us no harm and just prey on cicadas. I have seen a lot around the farm this year but they all look frantic with erratic flying patterns. These animals will most likely die out this year since there is not food for them. What other creatures also rely on the cicada or the wasp or other parts of the cicada life cycle. We have no idea what damage we are causing by eradicating just one kind of bug and most likely wont know for years until we discover a whole part of our ecosystem has collapses and its too late to rebuild it.

I miss my singing trees but sadly cicadas dont usually fly that far so once they are destroyed in one area it could take a lot of years before they repopulate my trees and they sing again. Perhaps they never will.