Spider Flower (Cleome hasslerana)

Top view of a Cleome flower just beginning to bloom

If you are looking for a large scale plant that can tolerate a drought, resist deer and other pests, blooms until late summer and then reseeds itself, then Cleome may be the plant for you.  Cleome is a large scale flower that can reach 6’ in a good season.  Their blooms come in different shades of pink ranging from deep magenta to almost white.  As the flower matures it will generally have three shades of pink on it at a single time.  The flowers grow in clusters that grow up the stalk as the plant matures.  As the flowers move up the stalk, they leave behind very long and slender seed pods that give the plant its common; spider plant. These slender seed pods also contain and deploy the seeds that allow Cleome to reseed its self year after year.

Cleome’s large stature and large colorful flower heads allows it to be used in mass as a lovely stand alone.  However, because of it sheer size, it is one of the few annual flowers that pairs very well with established shrubs.  Because of its generally pink color, it pairs well with loropetalum.  I paired it with buddleia this year and it was very pretty.  Cleome works fairly well as a cut flower.  However, the plant emits a very strong musky scent that reminds me of citronella.  Some find it unpleasant. 

First blooms

Besides its funny smell, another interesting thing about Cleome is the fact that a lot of people think its leaves look a whole lot like marijuana.  I heard a story where a high schooler was participating in a “mock trial” competition.  He was to “defend” one of his friends in a drug possession case.  This enterprising young “lawyer” contacted local horticulturists to see if there were any plants that closely resembled cannabis.  One of them sent him the leaves of Cleome.  When he presented them as evidence in his mock trial, the judge dismissed all of the “mock charges” because he felt that there was enough resemblance between the two plants to place reasonable doubt in the minds of the juror.

If growing a plant that resembles marijuana does not turn you off, then you are in luck.  Cleome is fairly easy to grow and it does well in average soils.  Cleome can be started indoors about two weeks before the last frost.  Cleome also does very well when it is direct seeded.  If you want to direct seed, place your seeds about a foot apart and cover them with  ¼” to a ½” of soil.  Plant in direct sun after all threat of frost has passed.  The seeds take 10 to 14 days to germinate.  Provide regular water to get them established.  Once established, provide Cleome with average water (1” per week) but it can withstand some drought conditions. 

Cleome and Buddleia in my front bed

When you buy your Cleome seeds, check to see if you are buying an open pollinated variety or a hybrid.  This is important to keep in mind because Cleome is a very good self seeder.  If you buy a hybrid, than when the plant reseeds, you will have no idea what type of Cleome will pop back up.  With that in mind, I think this hybridization of Cleome is a very good thing for gardeners.  There is a very popular hybrid out now called “Sparkler”.  Sparkler is lovely and it only gets about three feet tall.  This “dwarf” version can now be worked into the front of the bed or border.  I believe t his will make Cleome much more popular with gardeners in the future. 

I love Cleome.  I am fond of big plants and this one is a joy to watch grow.  I love the way the flowers start when the plant is half grown and the fact that they continue to grow “up the stem” as the plant continues to develop.  I love the “whiskers” that develop under the flowers.  In fact, I even kind of like the way it smells.  So, if you have a spot for a big, showy, pink plant that is easy to grow and has just about zero pest problems, I recommend that you include Cleome in your spring planting list.

A great shot of the seed pods on the ends of the plants "whiskers". Note the seed pods on the bottom of the plant. This is where the first flowers formed. You can see from this shot that the plat grew two more feet after it put on the first flower heads, The heads continued to "move up" the stalk as the plant grew.

Friends and Fresh Cut Flowers

This past Friday, two very pleasant things occurred at the Yupneck’s house;  an unexpected visit from my youngest daughter and the first formal dinner party hosted in our newly remodeled farmhouse (celebrating the “almost end” of a five year remodeling project).  While visits from the kids are always welcomed, it is those rare, unexpected drop ins that I love the most.  Whitney is a senior at North Texas University.  She is also a very talented floral designer.  While there, she found out that we were hosting the renowned Master of Horticulture, Dr. William C. Welch (Bill) and his lovely wife Lucille.  She asked if she could make us some arrangements from the garden for the dinner.  Of course I said a most enthusiastic YES!!!!!

Whitney grabbed some shears and left the house for about 20 minutes.  When she returned, she had a large bundle of flowers and foliage from just about every plant on my property.  It was a joy to watch her sort, strip and prepare these cuttings for arrangement.  What happened over the next fifteen minutes was truly amazing.  In less time than it takes me to brush my teeth, she created three incredibly lovely arrangements that I felt I had to share.

Arrangement for the yupneck's table. Made with things from my gardens by my lovely and talented daughter.

The first was a large arrangement that she made for the center of the table.  If you look closely, you will see hollyhocks, love-lies-bleeding, salvia, dried yarrow, coral honeysuckle and PURPLE HULL PEAS!  Who puts peas in a floral arrangement?  A young Master of Horticulture, that’s who.  This arrangement was stunning!  I wish my camera skills did it justice.

Close up of the table arrangement. Notice the use of purple hull peas and coral honeysuckle.

Next, she made a small arrangement for the bath.  This arrangement was built in a small water pitcher.  She incorporated  tatume’ squash, zinnias, love-lies-bleeding and southern wax myrtle foliage. 

Lovely arrangement using zinnias, amaranth and a tatume' squash.

Finally, she turned a vintage Mary planter into another stunning arrangement.  Here she used zinnias, salvia, wax myrtle foliage and iris leaves for effect.  Beautiful!

A vintage Mary planter featuring zinnias and salvia.

Whitney’s arrangements were the cherry on the top of the truly fabulous meal that my lovely wife prepared for the Welch’s.  Mrs. Yupneck created a carmalized onion and goat cheese appetizer, steak with bearnaise suace, stuffed summer squash and a tomato and balsalmic salad.  This was washed down with a lovely red brought by the guests and finished with a decadant “mudslide” dessert.  The evening was perfect.  My wife and daughter’s combined skills came together to create a dinner that was memorable for all.

The yupneck with his very talented floral designer daughter and his equally lovely and talented culinary wife.

P.S.  My daughter is a very talented floral designer.  She has started her own business in the DFW/Denton area.  She will be more than happy to give you a bid on events of any size.  To see more of her work you can check her out at Arbor Floral.

P.S.S.  Since the dinner was to celebrate the almost completion of our FIVE YEAR LONG remodeling project here is a picture of the entryway.

The entryway of "The Nest"

Castor Bean-Not a Bean At All

Who would think that these plain little flowers would produce the deadliest plant toxin on earth?

Castor Bean plants (Ricinus communis) are the source of two of the nastiest substances on earth.  The first, is castor oil.  YUCK!  This nasty substance has been used to treat “digestive issues” for a long time.  The taste of this stuff is so bad that it will make full grown men cry.  I only had to take it once, but it is a memory that still haunts me.  The other really bad thing that comes from this plant is ricin.  Ricin is a by product of the process used to make castor oil.  It is the most toxic substance on earth derived from a plant.  This stuff is so toxic that a TINY amount of refined ricin was used to kill a Bulgarian defector in 1978.  Georgi Markov was “shot” with a modified umbrella in the back of his leg with a tiny pellet the size of a pinhead.  This tiny pellet had two holes drilled through it to form a tiny “X’ through the center.  That space was filled with ricin.  Within three days, that tiny, tiny amount of ricin had killed Georgi.  Even though the ricin was not detected until after the autopsy, it would not have mattered.  There is no antidote for ricin poisoning.  Here is another scarey fact.  Quantities of refined ricin were found in caves in Afghanistan right after the invasion. 

If you decide to grow Castor Beans, you really need to be aware that every part of the plant is toxic.  This includes the stems, leaves and the seeds.  One bean (really a seed) is enough to kill a child.  Two or more will kill most adults.  If you have a dog that likes to chew plants, then don’t grow them where the dog can get to them.  I would also not grow them if there are small children in the vicinity.

These are the "spikey balls" that contain the seed. These dried pods are designed to stick to the fur of passing animals to add in dispersion.

I grow and love this dangerous plant at my house.  However, I have no pets or kids.  I love them for several reasons.  First, they are as lovely as they are dangerous.  Most varieites will grow over 6′ in a single season.  The large, eight lobed leaves provide a somewhat tropical effect.  This look is often difficult to obtain in locations that have high light and low water.  Castor Bean loves both of these conditions.  They also come in a wide range of colors.  Some varieties are a pale green, while others are very deep purple.  In fact, one of the most stunning plant combinations I have ever seen was a large mass of the purple variety growing behind a huge stand of thornless prickly pear cactus at Dr. Bill Welch’s weekend place in Washington County.

The flower of the Castor Bean is lovely but not that impressive.  The plant sends up spikes that develop small, pink flowers that attract a lot of pollenators.  This year, they seem to be drawing more yellow jackets than bees.  The base of the flower turns into a round, spikey ball.  This ball contains the very deadly seeds.  When the balls dry out, they fall to the ground.  The spikes are designed to attach to the fur of wandering critters.

The foliage of the Castor Bean is lovely. This large scale plant can be used to cover that "empty spot" in your garden.

Castor Beans are also incredibly easy to grow in our climates.  They love full sun, can take the heat and can survive low water once established.  Originally native to the Mediterranean Basin, Africa and India, their use as an ornamental has now allowed them to spread to most tropical areas in the world. 

Castor bean seeds are available from most seed companies.  I get mine from Baker Creek Seeds (rareseeds.com).  Plant the seeds about a half to one inch deep in full sun when the soil has warmed up to about 70 degrees.  They are fairly heavy feeders and like a rich soil thoroughly worked with compost.  They do take a while to germinate so be patient.  Water regularly to get them established.  Once the plant is about a foot tall, they will survive and thrive on 1 inch or less of water per week.  They get tall quickly so you may need to stake them.  Also, the large leaves are susceptible to wind damage.

Caster Beans have been grown in the south for a very long time.  My grandparents grew them and their grandparents probably did as well.  They are hardy, beautiful and a few plants can fill up a relatively large area in a garden with big, bold, vibrant foliage.  If you take care to plant these where curious pets and children can’t get to them, you will enjoy a lush, tropical look in the yard in the driest of times.

Lavender Fest at the Living Kitchen CSA

The view from the porch of the Living Kitchen CSA

I love the CSA movement.  If you are not familiar with the CSA concept here is a brief run down.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Basically, the CSA is an arrangement between a farmer and their customers.  The members of the CSA agree to pay a weekly fee to the farmer in exchange for an equal share of their harvest.  This arrangement ensures that the farmer has the resources needed to keep the farm going and the members get a steady supply of fresh, healthy (generally organic), locally grown vegetables for their families.  I really love this movement because it allows a lot of people to make a living farming on a relatively small scale.  I am a firm believer that what we put in our mouths really matters.  The people that operate CSAs feel this way as well.  That’s why this arrangement works.  Good people who love agriculture and taking care of the earth provide great food to people that care enough about what they feed their families that they are willing to support the producers.  Everyone wins!

Linda Ford hard at work distributing shares to her members at the Tulsa Farmer's Market

Two weeks ago my wife and I visited The Living Kitchen Farm and Dairy (http://livingkitchen.homestead.com/) in Bristow Oklahoma.  This CSA is run by two of the hardest working entrepreneurs I have ever met.  Linda Ford and Lisa Becklund run a thriving business that combines vegetable production, a goat dairy, mutton production, egg production, artisanal cheese making, farmer’s market and fine dining experiences.  WHEW!  I am exhausted just telling you about all they do!  Their CSA model is a little different than most.  In addition to fresh vegetables, they also provide fresh eggs to their members .  They also intend to add mutton to the mix in the near future.  It is their ultimate goal to provide 75% of their member’s food needs.

Our Chef and hostess, Lisa Becklund, with Mrs. Yupneck

Running an operation this diverse does require some help.  The girls employ seasonal labor and are assisted by several volunteers.  This summer, they also have two college interns that are helping them with the just about everything.  Kathleen Airola (B.S. in Horticulture, University of Arkansas) and Josey Hoelscher (B.S. Animal Science, Purdue) are providing assistance in all aspects of the farm’s operations.  Young people like this are the future of Agriculture in our country.  I am excited to see such talented young people excited about a future in the agricultural world.  Both of these girls were extremely knowledgeable and personable and I enjoyed visiting with them immensely. 

The Living Farm interns: Kathleen Airola and Josey Hoelscher. Also pictured is Living Farm volunteer Cara Johnson. Special thanks to Cara as it was her and her mom that rescued the yupneck and his party when we became lost on our way to the farm!

Even though I am incredibly interested in all thing horticultural, what brought us to Living Kitchen was the birthday of a dear friend.  My wife was looking for something “different” to give her friend for this birthday.  The Living Kitchen Lavender Festival is what she came up with.  In addition to their agricultural events, Linda and Lisa sponsor monthly dinners (in the non-freezing months) that feature whatever is in season on the farm.  We were lucky enough to be there for the “Lavendar Festival”.  Every dish and drink had culinary lavender used in its preparation.  Lisa is a trained chef and her skills were apparent.  Everything that entered out mouths was outstanding. 

Flat bread made in the farm's "cob oven". The bread was perfect with the homemade chevre made right on the farm.

Atmosphere always plays a huge part in the fine dining experience.  Lisa and Linda have a log cabin on their property that they use to host their dinners.  This cabin looks like it is straight off the pages of a magazine.  We enjoyed our Lavendar Feast on the screened in porch of this rustic home with 29 other lovers of good food.  We ate, laughed and made new friends.  All in all, it was a perfect day.  My hat is off to these two outstanding young women.  Together they have built a business that feeds both the stomachs and souls of their guests.

Linnaeus Teaching Garden

A statue of Carl Linneaus, the father of botany and the namesake of the Linneaus Teaching Garden

The Linneaus Teaching Garden in Tulsa is an incredibly beautiful place that was a gift to the citizens of Tulsa by the citizens of Tulsa.  The garden is the vision of a true Master of Horticulture named Barry Fugatt.   Mr. Fugatt is the resident horticulturist at the Tulsa Garden Center.  In 2005 he approached the director with a plan to create a garden that would educate the people of Tulsa on the horticultural possibilities for their own yards and gardens. 

A lovely bed as you approach the teaching center

Over the rest of 2005 and 2006, 3000 people contributed the $800,000 needed to get this project off the ground.  With funding secured, the city authorized the use of 1.5 acres in Woodward Park to be used as the home of what was to become the Linneaus Teaching Garden.  Industry sponsors donated the material and labor to build the structures and hardscapes.  This trend of giving has continued and the garden has now thrived for five years without the need to take any public money.

Summer phlox and a bumble bee

The center is staffed by a cadre of trained volunteers.  To work here, you must complete a 12 week course that covers everything from plant taxonomy to landscape design.  Once the course is complete, the volunteers agree to provide at least 40 hours of their time to the garden each calendar year.

In the yupneck’s humble opinion, this type of garden is needed in every city in America.  The gardens are beautiful and they are filled with plants that grow well in Tulsa.  There is no sales pitch.  If you want to beautify your yard or start a vegetable garden, then all you have to do is stroll around this 1.5 acre oasis.  Every planting is clearly marked and selected soley because it does well in the Tulsa area.  If you want to know more about the plants or the methods that have caught your eye, then you can ask any of the very friendly and well trained staff for the additional info.

Lovely water feature

The Linneas is not just about ornamentals.  The vegetable garden was just as lovely as the beds.  I loved the extensive use of containers.  As more and more urban dwellers catch the gardening bug, container gardening is going to become a much more common way of growing veggies.  Containers are easy to get started and easy to maintain.  In fact, a container filled with the appropriate media (soil) will generally have fewer weeds, require no chemical fertilization and use much less water than a traditional, in the ground, row garden.  One complaint I have often heard people make about container gardens is that they cannot grow big vegetables like corn.  The Linneaus has obviously disproved this urban legend.

I have never seen corn grown in a container. Very interesting. I also liked seeing the whiskey barrels reused as very attractive container gardens.

With the feel of a public garden and a mission of education, this garden is an incredibly rare and valuable resource for the gardeners of Tulsa.  The fact that it is completely funded by private donations and staffed by people that are as passionate about horticulture as I am makes me love it even more.  I wish I had something like this in my neck of the woods.

Pansies in the middle of June! I don't think were in Zone 9 any more!