Y2K is for the Birds in the Midwest

Happy New Year to all. I hope the year 2017 brings your family and friends much happiness and good health. I also, hope the year 2017 will bring much happiness and health to all our feathered friends outside of our homes.

To ensure the safety and health of our birds during the course of our Midwest winter we need to provide water, shelter and food for the birds. To ensure a variety of food sources for all types of birds, I have two recipes that I hope you will try to make for our feathered friends. Not only will the birds be happy, but the recipes would be a fun way to bring in the New Year with your family.

Recipe Number One: Cookies for the Birds

Ingredients and Supplies——

cookie cutters (use the type that is open on the front and back), wax paper, 1 cup lard, 1 cup peanut butter, 2 cups rolled oats, 2 cups cornmeat, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, makeshift hole punch (straw, stick, awl,etc.) ribbon or yarn.


1. Place the cookie cutters on a tray covered with wax paper.

2. Melt the lard and peanut butter in a pan over low heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to form a thick mixture.

3. Pour or spoon the mix into the cookie cutters to a depth of about one inch.

4. Poke a hole in the suet near the top of each cutter. Make the hole large enough to thread ribbon or yarn through.

5. Put the tray into the freezer for at least one week.

6. Remove the cookies from the cutters and peel off the wax paper. Thread the ribbon or yarn through each cookie.

7. Hang the bird cookies on your favorite tree.

8. Relax and enjoy watching your feathered friends feast on your recipe.


Recipe Number Two: Bird Granola

Ingredients and Supplies—-

1 cup corn oil or peanut oil, 1 cup honey, 2 cups chopped nuts, 2 cups millet, 1 cup wheat germ, 2 cups raisins, 2 cups hulled sunflower seeds, 2 cups crumbled dog biscuits.


1. Mix the oil and honey, then heat gently just until they blend together.

2. Mix the other ingredients in a large bowl. Add the warm oil and honey, and stir to combine.

3. Press the mix into a shallow baking pan.

4. Bake at 375 degree oven for ten minutes.

5. Let cool, then crumble the mixture.

6. Serve the granola to you birds.

Annuals in the Trial Gardens: Selecting annuals that withstand tough conditions

A visit to a local trial garden in the dog days of summer can be helpful in selecting annuals for your garden. It is very obvious the varieties of bedding plants that hold up well in your conditions. And, it’s easy to spot the ones that can’t handle the extremes. A visitor to the K-State Trial Gardens called it the Death Gardens.

This year, when the annuals went in the ground, we had several days of cool rainy weather in May. Then, the conditions changed to hot and dry. The plants at the K-State Trial Gardens are intentionally stressed and only receive supplemental water every 10 days with no mulch on the beds.

There is no protection from hungry deer and rabbits. The flower beds are well prepped in advance of planting. In the fall, organic matter is added to the beds and nutrients are added if soil tests indicate the need.

Some of the annuals that are full of flowers right now include:

  • Bandana Cherry Lantana
  • Sunray Petunia
  • New Wonder Scaevola
  • Purple Gomphrena
  • Vista Bugglegum Supertunia
  • Diamond Frost Euphorbia
  • Escapade Pink Verbena
  • Zesty White Zinnia
  • Oklahoma Scarlet Zinnia

Last year, I loved the ornamental peppers. Chilly Chili and Black Pearl were great. This year I was surprised to see King Tut Papyrus doing so well given the harsh conditions.

I’ve always thought of it as a water garden plant. Trials are also underway in the gardens on perennials. And, bare root shrub roses were planted this spring. Not only are the roses being looked at for flowers, but also disease resistance.

K-State promotes the results of the trial gardens at their website Prairie Star Flowers. Dr. Alan Stevens calls them “high performance flowers for the climate and soils of the prairie.”


With Christmas and the New Year, not to mention the start of the New Millennium now under our belt, spring is coming ever closer and with it all those early spring flowers.

In this article I will be talking about those delightful flowers of early spring, the Hellebores. Hellebores have been associated with gardens for a very long time and medicinal herbalism for well over two thousand years. The medicinal uses of Hellebores center on the roots, which are mentioned by many of the old herbalists.

These herbalists attribute various properties to their use. Pliny extols it virtues for afflictions of the mind as does Dioscorides. They have also been used to alleviate such conditions as ringworm, leprosy and scab. There are even well documented reports of Hellebores being used as a pesticide, for example as a powder to kill caterpillars on fruit bushes.

It might be wise at this point to underline the danger of actually using any part of this most poisonous plant and on no account should an attempt to concoct home-made herbal remedies be made.

Hellebores belong to the buttercup family – Ranunculaceae.

These happen to be one of my most favorite plants. They are so easy going and accommodating that all gardeners should have at least half a dozen or so to lift the spirit in mid to late winter.

Already, the flower buds on my own plants are fattening by the day. Later in January I usually remove all the old foliage of the previous season from the plants. This enables me to enjoy to the full those gorgeous blooms all the more and enables each plant to make a clean start to each new season.

Hellebores come in an increasing range of colors now, from pure white and yellow, through to plum and even black. The easiest by far to grow for the beginner and the one with the widest color range is Hellebore orientalis. The leaves of all Hellebores are very architectural and add bags of character and class to any garden. A more obliging plant I have yet to meet.

Their distribution in the wild is very widespread throughout Europe and even into China.

I have a look at some of the cultivars of most garden value. H. orientalis is by far the easiest to cultivate and the one most often found in gardens of today. Its many forms have the widest range of colors and flowers more freely than the more aristocratic and fussy relatives.

Gardening for the birds

For a second year, southern Ontario has experienced a long and mild fall and early winter. Not until nearly Christmas did the frosty gusts of winter howl through our gardens.

Now the earth is too solid to plant even a last, diehard batch of tulips bulbs. Still, I can’t bring myself to turn my back on the garden and open the pages of this year’s seed catalogues.

Instead, I wonder how the blue jays, cardinals and finches that sang in the garden over the summer will fare over the winter. Should I listen to our two cats, Pouncer and Smudge, and add a feeder or two, or is there enough growing in the garden to feed and shelter the birds that visit our backyard during the winter?

To survive, birds need three things: natural shelter, food and water, and protection from predators. The best natural shelter is a stand of evergreen trees and shrubs. It’s a bird’s best protection against wintry winds and temperatures.

As for food and water, a wide variety of fruits, seeds and nuts will fuel a bird’s requirement for energy and warmth. An unfrozen source of drinking water as well as bathing water also keeps them happy. Predators are a little more challenging to contend with, especially in our yard with two mighty feline hunters.

Luckily, Smudge is content to explore the garden at the end of a leash, foiling most attempts at bird- napping. On the other hand, Pouncer is a menace to the ornithological world. One of the best tips I’ve heard is to keep household cats indoors early in the morning–the height of bird feeding time. Once the birds have finished breakfast, they head for shelter, much to Pouncer’s dismay.

When I look at the garden, I see plenty of places for birds to shelter. The three large junipers that edge the eastern side of the yard are favorites of robins and grosbeaks. The branches of these trees also make safe take-off and landing platforms for forays to my neighbor’s feeders which hang a few feet away.

One of the best evergreen trees for food, shelter and nesting, though, is nowhere to be found on either my yard or in neighborhood gardens: that’s the pine. Home to chickadees, robins, woodpeckers, blue jays and numerous songbirds, both white and red pines make great nesting and roosting sites.

If you have a pine or two in your backyard, yours will be a popular haunt for these birds. If you don’t, instead of putting your pine Christmas tree out at the roadside, place it in the garden where it can shelter both birds and tender shrubs like rhododendrons.

Do It With Style!

Pond Style

Often we see pictures of ponds with rock “necklaces” around them, and we think that is the only way to go. I have one about my pond. I like it. What if your home doesn’t allow for such a thing? It has lots of glass and angles, or is a city brownstone, or perhaps a yurt. Never fear! You too can have a pond.

Human ingenuity has overcome the dry docked backyard and created some great water features that almost anybody can incorporate into their own landscapes.


What constitutes the formal pond? Defined edges and symmetry are key to the formal design. Brick or dressed stone is popularly used to create a path or rim around the pond.

A fountain will often complement the formal water garden as well as a waterfall. Historically the formal pond was the center piece of the garden, as in the case of the John Nash House in wales.

Here is a water feature designed in 1904, formal and beautiful, but well beyond the means of most of us. Today many of us must build our ponds within the constraints of suburbia, but it can be done and with style too. At Our Backyard Pond we pick up some pointers on how.

A formal pond can be built in a grassy backyard as well. The Backyard demonstrates this. If you have some space and ingenuity NPS Tour of Ponds™ Gives us some fine ideas on how to utilize them. So if a formal water garden appeals to you, just dig it!

What constitutes a natural pond? Well, realistically speaking no man-made pond is natural, but you can imitate nature. Avoid straight edges, keep it as open as possible and use native stone or other materials to blend the pond in with the area.

Elaine’s Pond gives a good idea of how this can be accomplished. If you really want to go natural Biggs Wildlife Pond can show you how. Pond4You gives us a look at building a natural pond, with some ups and downs.

A Garden Plan That Works

How To Make A Garden Plan in Three Easy Steps

The three steps to a good garden plan involve observing, thinking and writing it down. This is well within the grasp of most of us and yet do we do it? Nope.

Most winters we spend time with the wish book catalogs making crazy plans and dreaming about the perfect gardens we’re going to grow the next year and they never quite happen the way we’ve envisioned.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not this time. Before you send off those insane mail orders, before you grab that shovel and rustle up a truckload of compost, take a little time to plan your upcoming projects right. It’s virtually painless and requires no green thumb.

Yet it practically assures you good results next season and for years to come. And all your planning can be done in three easy steps: observe, think, put pencil to paper. And I’ll tell you an easy way to do it with professional results.

So resolve right now to change your ways!

Step One Towards the Plan

The first step is to enjoy the weather by heading out with the camera to take some “awful shots”. These are the pictures that show all and I do mean all. The camera never lies, so go ahead and be merciless.

Get out there and shoot some warts! A panoramic camera works best but any camera will do. (Take a series from left to right for a panoramic effect.) Show the ugly fence, the crooked trellis, the scrawny bushes and the muddy tracks to the trash can.

Don’t stop at the property line, either. Snap the neighbor’s abandoned weedy veggie plot and the utility pole out front. Snap your favorite views along the way, too.

When your prints come back, be sure to file them away safely no matter how tempted you are to burn them on sight. In years to come you will consider them to be priceless “Before” shots in the amazing but true “Before” and “After” series.

Online Nurseries – Specialty Perennials

Those of you who frequent Perennials or Shadegardens mailing lists already know Paul Henjum, owner of Specialty Perennials, as a person who provides excellent information, from personal experience, about a wide range of plants.

Paul began his love of plants in high school, carried it onward to college where he studied biology, botany and horticulture. He started his nursery as a wholesale operation specializing in native woodland plants; jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), Mitella diphylla (miterwort), violas and native columbine (Aquilegia), among others.

For the past twelve years, Specialty Perennials has concentrated on the farmer’s markets in the vicinity of Minneapolis and St. Paul. A year and a half ago, Paul put his extensive array of plants online, making them available, via mail-order, for all of us.

Since his nursery is in the challenging climate of Minnesota (very hot summers and very cold winters), his list of plants will be especially suited for you northern gardeners. Of course, most will do well in warmer climates, too.

Specialty Perennials
481 Reflection Road
Apple Valley MN 55124
Phone or Fax: 612-432-8673
Email: Meum71@aol.com

There’s no print catalog at present, but Paul has plans for one in the works for next year. The web site has secure credit ordering online.

Paul tells me that he likes variety, something that is reflected in the listings on the Specialty Perennials site. He buys liners from many different wholesalers and grows them on. Until recently, all his plants have been container grown, but he’s run out of room for containers so he is beginning to field grow plants, which also provides him with stock for propagation.

He says he’s always changing his plant list to reflect his current interest, so if you see something you want, you’d better grab it while he has it. He’s doing a lot of propagation from seed this year, he tells me, so look for seed grown plants to show up next spring.

In addition to his regular perennial listing, Paul offers fall shipped bulbs (Allium, Crocus and daffodils), herbaceous peonies and bearded iris.

For those of you with some sunny spots or places that only get very light shade, there’s a huge list of tetraploid and diploid daylilies (Hemerocallis) offered on the fall shipping pages. I’ve found, in my USDA zone 7 climate, that daylilies will grow as foliage plants in fairly deep shade, but it takes at least three hours of direct sun or most of the day in very light, dappled shade for them to bloom well.


March has surly kept up the tradition this year with heavy wintry showers of hail and rain, and winds that would cut you in two. Gardening had to be confined to the greenhouse, and as a lot of the seedling Primulas are in bloom hybridizing was the order of the day. At least there is no problem from bees or flies at this time of the year and definitely not on a cold and blustery day.

This is something of a delicate process as the use of a magnifying class and a special pair of pointed tweezers is required. I have long since give trying to find a suitable brushes small enough for the task.

The most tedious part of the work is recording the crosses that are to be made in the record book. This is the same system as I use for the seed. All the plants that are to be served with the same pollen are placed on the bench at one end of the greenhouse.

The plant with the ripe pollen is then brought up and the pollen grains carefully distributed to the sticky stigmas. The magnifying glass is used to establish that each one has been properly served, and then they are carefully labelled.

After searching for a number of years I finally discovered suitable labels small enough to do the job without being intrusive. The small labels use by jewelers to price watches and such things is just the right size.

The record is made with a sharp pencil and the small tie cord on the label is then passed through the hole in the bottom of a six-inch plastic label, which is then inserted, into the pot upside down. This keeps the label clean as it is well clear of the pot and also leaves the plastic label intact as it has not been written on.

The Alpine house is a awash with color at the moment with the Cyclamen still managing to hold on to most of their flowers, the Allionii primulas are all in full bloom. All the Dionysias bar two are in flower, the Asiatic primulas are starting to bloom, and there is still a few Narcissus and the beautiful blue and white Tecophilea c.leichtlinii.

With such a display one is loath to leave even when the window of the kitchen is tapped sharply, a signal that refreshments have been prepared, and if harsh words avoided it is best to make haste in that direction.

The afternoon cleared up enough to make a quick stroll round the garden a more than pleasant exercise. The frame at the back of the new alpine house where I removed the glass cover a few weeks ago has now turned green.

Fritillary’s are coming up like weeds with each pot crammed full of green leaves. I hope some of them convert their energy into flowers. Eranthus Guinea gold is just opening its large flowers and the Erythronium are already two inches high.

Galanthus Sophie north is one of the most beautiful snowdrops that I have ever seen with broad leaves and pristine large white flowers. I would normally bring bulbs that are in flower into the alpine house, but not snowdrops; they do not like under cover where the temperature can rise quickly in the spring sunshine.

The last of the seed that were getting the cold treatment in the fridge have now been sown, and what a difficult job that turned out to be. The seed were very small and got stuck to the wet kitchen roll that they were stored in. This problem was finally solved by trickling silver sand onto the paper and carefully mixing it with a small knife until it had absorbed all the moisture from the paper.

The lot was then tipped onto the bench and a little more sand added until it was just damp and easily handled. Then it was sown sand and all onto the surface of the compost and covered with grit. Nothing is difficult really if you can only come up with the right solution.

In the front garden one plant of Narcissus Bulbocodium flowered exactly one month before the others. I have no idea why this should be as I only planted the one group of these plants many years ago.

They have since seeded all over the garden. Last year I discovered a nice pale lemon one and now this early flowering one. As there are none of these plants in any of the neighbor’s gardens it must be just a mixture of clones in the plants that I raised from seed in the first place.

Had to put some slug pellets round the Fritillaria Imperialis as they pushed up through the soil. Last year the slugs munched all the flower stocks and I got no flowers, but I am not going to get caught this year.

Haunted by Nandina…

I have mixed feelings about nandina. On the one hand, it seems to grow stronger with neglect, and provides evergreen color with a grand winter display of berries in light to full sun. And almost nothing harmful will eat it.

On the other hand, it gets out of control in a hurry, and birds drop its’ seeds in their excreta, encouraging it to show up in places I never wanted it.

I must also confess that the nandina so common to yards in Atlanta also reminds me of trips to the cemetery. Trips in the winter in particular.

Nandina is inexpensive and showy. Therefore, it makes a dandy grave arrangement, a custom which I observed often as a child. My grandmother used to put nandina and mahonia in a large can covered in tin foil, and filled with rocks, so the wind wouldn’t knock it over.

Her favorite container for this home-grown floral decoration was usually a JFG Coffee can. The foil also covered that tacky label, which would mar the arranger’s efforts, and might offend the deceased. (What if he/she hadn’t cared for JFG?)

We’d troop out to the burying ground with our cans of nandina, then stand back in the cold and admire them. Bringing something green ‘from home’ in some way seemed to make the sad effort worthwhile for the adults.

The kids in the group (myself included) were always bored unless the grown-ups would get to talking about Dear Dead Relatives and leave us alone, to chase each other around the headstones and act like the cemetery was our personal playground.

I can still hear my grandmother calling me…
“emma-LEE!! Where DO you think you are?”
She continuallly cautioned us not to be disrespectful of the deceased, while we cheerfully threw nandina berries at each other–and down the backs of unsuspecting aunts and uncles.

Once I asked my older cousin Jackie if he thought the dead people minded having us play on their graves. He looked at me as if I were the biggest dolt on earth.
“No. They’re DEAD.” he replied. Good point.

Having said all that, now I’ll share a few things you might actually find USEFUL about growing nandina:

It isn’t a true bamboo. It belongs to the barberry (berberidacae) family and is native to the Far East.

It can be propagated from root stock or seed. Or, at my house, I can dig it out of the woods, courtesy of our feathered friends.

Year-Round Gardening: A Seasonal Guide to Home Garden Maintenance

Garden maintenance begins from late fall into early winter. This is the time to prepare plants, soil and equipment to weather the harsh winter months. Work compost and organic matter into the garden beds to replenish nutrients used by this year’s plants.

Add mulch around any vegetables not yet harvested. Protect woody plants and young trees from winter animal damage by wrapping their bases with wire mesh.

Take down and store stakes, hoops and temporary trellises. Take up drip-irrigation hoses. Drain and store them indoors to prevent cracking in freezing temperatures. Add heating elements to birdbaths and protect concrete statuary from absorbing moisture by under-laying gravel foundations or pedestals.

The Winter Garden

The late winter months are prime maintenance time for garden tools. Replenish mulch as needed and trim trees and shrubs. You can begin sowing seed indoors late February to early March. In the garden shed it is time to check cold frames for weathering and replace panes or rotting frames. Inspect, repair, clean, oil, and sharpen all garden tools.

Revisit landscaping plans and garden layouts. Make plans to rotate annually planted vegetable beds. Plants belonging to the same families, such as cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts, are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.

Many of these pest and spores over-winter in the soil and emerge in the spring to feast on the new crops. Rotating crops each year decreases the likelihood of a destructive infestation.

The Spring Garden

Early spring is the season of renewal. Remove old winter mulch and begin to turn the soil in vegetable garden beds as frost layers diminish. Add compost, manure and fertilizers to vegetable beds prior to planting.

Cut back perennial plants in flowerbeds and cultivate the soil around them. Start planting cool-season vegetables like lettuce and peas after the last frost. Begin weeding as soon as the first shoots appear.

Mid-to-late spring is the season of intense planting and weed control. Pinch off dead blooms on daffodils and tulips and divide bulbs and perennial plants in over-crowded flowerbeds. Plant cool-season seedlings that were started indoors and direct-sow flower seeds.

Roll out irrigation hoses and begin monitoring soil moisture. Water your garden at least an inch a week if dry spells occur. Set stakes and trellises to support vines or heavy plants. Turn compost piles as needed.

The Summer Garden

Early summer is the season of critical water use and pest control. Continue to monitor soil moisture levels and pull weeds. Patrol for insects both beneficial and problematic.

Deadhead dead blossoms and prune shrubs that have finished flowering. Harvest early vegetables and fertilize the later ones. Plan menus according to your vegetable and fruit harvest time-line. Collect recipes for incorporating the garden’s bounty.

Mid-to-late summer is the season of intervention. Continue to weed, water and mulch as needed. Plants will either be thriving or not and you will need to take measures to protect your harvest. Plants that are not thriving need a fish emulsion or liquid fertilizer treatment.

Plants showing signs of disease should be dug up and discarded. Continue to monitor for pest invasions. Make preparations for showing flowers or vegetables in the county fair. Clean and check canning equipment.

The Fall Garden

Early-to mid-fall is the season of harvest, preservation and compost. Start a compost pile or add to it. Throw all unused produce, grass clippings, trimmings and weeds removed from the garden onto the compost pile.

Begin to balance the garden soil’s pH and nutrient levels. Plant perennials, groundcovers, trees and spring bulbs. Pot kitchen herbs like rosemary and chives to bring indoors. Harvest late-season vegetables. Freeze, can or dry surplus produce.

Understanding the seasonal needs of the home garden can result not only in higher yields and more lush flowerbeds but also in greater gardening satisfaction. By attending to small gardening details in the appropriate seasons the home garden will flourish.