When the Cosmos Speaks in Orange

“Orange is the colour of truth.”

– Anthony T. Hincks

 

I’ve always loved orange. My favorite color is black, actually, but that’s for a whole separate post. (It’s not a stretch to see how someone like me would adore Halloween, huh?) But Orange. Orange somehow makes me feel grounded, centered, comforted. It’s that color that rings closest to pure for me. I’m not really sure why. The best explanation I can retrieve, from the depths of my inner self, is that orange conjures up memories of fall and memories of fall equate, in my heart, to Thanksgiving dinner around my grandparents’ table. Truth be told, a bit of sadness often wells within me when the orange is traded for Christmas red.

I think that’s one of my most favorite memories…Thanksgiving dinner. When we celebrated at my grandparents’ house, there were always ten of us. Two old, four mid and four young humans packed around a table in a dining room that had way too much furniture residing in it. And it was always just a smidge too warm in the house, but you wore a sweater anyway, and the whole space smelled like giblet gravy. And there was china on the table and laughter and delicate goblets and the clinking of silverware and pride seeping from every pore of my grandma’s skin over the quality of her cornbread dressing. And there was always pie with Kraft® Cool Whip. I remember one particular Thanksgiving in high school where I went out back by myself to gather pecans from under their massive tree. My grandma spent three-quarters of pecan season cursing squirrels in her head, but NEVER out of her mouth, so I’m sure I was out there trying to get a jump on things to help out. I was wearing a cream-colored sweater that J. had bought for me as a gift, jeans and brown Bass loafers, if any of you from the early 90s remember those. The sky was a perfect warmth of gray with a nip in the air. As I dropped pecans one by one into the paper sack, I remember feeling so thankful, so blessed, so loved and so nearest to God in the most defined place of contentment I can recall over the entire course of my life. Sometimes when I need grounding now, I go back to that place in my mind, step into that yard and just live Thanksgiving at Grandma and Grandpa’s for a few minutes. It was the one place where there were no expectations. In THAT place…you were simply embraced. You might have heard of this thing. It’s called unconditional love. It’s why, I suppose, when the universe speaks to my soul, it uses orange words.

So, you can only imagine how the color orange in my garden brings me great joy, and especially orange at this time of year. It’s like a double win! If you are looking for the perfect fall orange in your landscape, my all-time favorite winner is the old-fashioned Tall Orange Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus). I have literally been waiting for weeks now for our stand to open up in the pollinator garden, watching with high anticipation as buds began to form everywhere across the crowns of dozens of plants.  Finally, this week, after the turn of the autumnal equinox, which happened to fall on my birthday, the buds all opened into a stunning array of contentment.

 

The best thing about including this flower in your garden, is that you just don’t have to work at it. You sow seeds, sit back and watch them come up. In North Texas you can either sow in the fall before the first frost or wait until spring and sow in early March. We literally started with two or three plants last season that came up from a mixed wildflower packet, and this year we have DOZENS! I mean…why only have a sprinkle of joy when you can douse yourself in it??? And it is a true favorite of pollinators.

If that still doesn’t sell you, then let me say that the Orange Cosmos is the perfect compliment to your humanitarian efforts. If you are looking for ways to become more sustainable in your gardening efforts and not spend hard-earned resources buying plants, you can easily harvest seeds from one single plant and share them to other areas of your garden. You will even have so many seeds that you could #plantsharenow with friends! Just wait for the flowers to die back and you will see long, spear-like seeds develop where the petals once were. Just knock them off into a paper bag, and you’re done!

 

Now, I will admit that if you are a person requiring “order” in your garden, this might not be the plant for you. Our Cosmos definitely push J.’s sense of appropriate boundaries. Their stems intertwine like unkempt toddler hair, some will insist on raising their hands while the rest of the class sits quietly and they aren’t terribly considerate of stepping aside for sidewalk dog-walkers or scooter riders.

 

But, I have to say, I believe contentment often reveals itself in spaces a little less ordered and peace resides outside the boundaries, where you simply let go and embrace the tangles. So dog-walkers beware! You’ll just have to step over the Cosmos or pass around it. Or, even better, you COULD allow the petals to brush up against you…as you walk straight through.

 

All the best,

A.J.

– All Content Photos by Amanda J. Schulz

 

The Magnificent Seven

“Summer was our best season…it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ”

– Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”

 

When I pull up my WeatherBug® app these days, it shows a sun with cactus. It’s been a sun with cactus for days. It’s predicting a sun with cactus for another straight week. In case you’re a little slow on the uptake, that basically means it’s hot. It’s blazing hot. It’s some kind of near to hell hot. It’s so hot here in North Texas that my Facebook® feed has become a littered highway of automobile dashboard photos depicting 105°, 108°, 112°…you name it. When I walk from the house to the garage, I literally feel like I’m in the movie The Magnificent Seven, only no one is shooting at me. My dad always loved that movie, but as a kid I just remember thinking that all those people looked so hot. It was like the sun was glaring all the time, the landscape was a bunch of sticks and rocks, there were lots of men brandishing firearms and donning pants and vests and long sleeves, and everyone kept falling and rolling around in the dirt. Miserable. That’s pretty much how it is here. At some point, it honestly doesn’t really matter what the dashboard number says, you just don’t care anymore. It’s all the same swelter. You stand and sweat, along with everyone else standing and sweating, longing for the moment when someone posts a photo of the first Pumpkin Spice Latte. Ahhhh…fall.

I have to admit that we have spent precious LITTLE time in the garden these past few weeks, and I have been seriously “momming.” This “momming” thing is not for the birds, people. I’ve been shuttling kids to movies, dropping off and picking up from camps, trekking around water parks, fixing seemingly endless meals and snacks…I was even assigned a part in a YouTube video this weekend by my son…all while still working for my clients and longing for the moment when someone posts a photo of the first day of SCHOOL!!!  LOL. Can we get a “yes” here that, as of July 23, we’re all pretty much ready for this?!?!?

When we WERE out, here and there, in the garden this last week, I honestly couldn’t help but marvel at some of my tried and true favorites still pushing on through, despite the perpetual sun with cactus. I surmised, though, that some of you might be blankly staring out a window, somewhere right about now, and disheartenedly wondering, “What the heck can I plant NEXT spring so that my July flower bed doesn’t look like a Mexican village taken over by the Calvera?” Have no fear. The Magnificent Seven are here. I snapped these photos Saturday when it was 109º at my house, and ALL of these beauties were bloomin’ hot (total pun intended)! I guarantee, with a little planning this coming spring, these can be surefire color-slinging saviors for your garden next summer. Here they are, riding into town to the rescue!

 

You:  “I want ZERO maintenance. I mean…I want to throw out some seeds, watch some plants come up and not do anything but water twice a week.”

Me:  “I hear ya. I’ve got ya covered.”

 

BLACK-EYED SUSAN and BLANKET FLOWER

Both of these specimens are in their second round of blooms right now, the first having been a spring bloom. If they can grow from seed on a Texas roadside, they can certainly grow in your garden!

 

ZINNIAS and ORANGE COSMOS

These are old-fashioned garden favorites! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Zinnias for their variety. From the tiny Thumbelina blooms to the giant doubles, they come in a palette of color in all shapes and sizes. I tend to love the giant doubles in pink, seen above. Your basic Orange Cosmos is also a winner, standing up to all kinds of heat with continued green foliage, AND attracting bees! The best part…all you have to do is scatter seed and watch them come up!!!

 

You: “But I’m okay with a LITTLE work. I don’t mind using a few tools.”

Me: “Then I’ve got the two for you!”

 

AUTUMN SAGE and ORANGE ZEST CESTRUM

If you need to “feel” like you’re gardening, then these two choices might be perfect for you. Autumn Sage is a super tolerant plant to grow and it comes in a variety of colors. It’s a medium-height clumping grower that will provide continuous color from spring until frost. I have it growing in red, pale pink and deep purple in my garden. You’ll need to have hand pruners in the spring to cut back all of the old, dead stems and help shape the plant as it begins to sprout. Want something bigger? Orange Zest Cestrum might be my most favorite shrub right now. We have this planted adjacent to our pond, and it provides lush, dark green foliage and continuous orange-yellow clustered blooms, again, from spring through frost. It attracts a multitude of interesting insects as well, but not really pests that harm the plant. In fact, it’s known for being relatively pest resistant. Once it begins to sprout in the spring, you will need a good set of loppers to trim off branches that you don’t want in order to begin to shape the shrub upward for the blooming season. This shrub gets big. Ours is easily between 5 to 6 feet tall right now and about 4 feet wide, so allow some space for this girl.

 

You: “These are all great options, but what about a plant I can easily get a start of from a friend?”

Me: “Oh, so you want to #plantsharenow? I like your style!”

 

STANDING PHLOX

 

This, ladies and gentleman, is the Yul Brynner of the Magnificent Seven. The leader, the champion, the one J. and I just said this week that, “We need a LOT more of.” If you want something big and showy to really add major pizzazz to your beds, I cannot recommend Phlox enough. Now, this is definitely an example of a plant that is easier to grow from cuttings or transplants, rather than seed, but that’s the best part! If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I like sustainability through the concept of using and sharing what you have, whether through seeds or starts. We transplanted shoots dug from the clumps of my mother-in-law’s Phlox into our garden last fall. They went dormant in the winter, then re-sprouted this last spring and REALLY started blooming when the heat cranked up…so, you can see, this plant species checks a lot of boxes! I’ve loved this so much that I would have it in every bed, if possible. And, hey, anything’s possible, right?

 

I hope these suggestions might help you feel a little bit better when you look out your window next July. These plantings truly will liberate any struggling, sun-filled summer bed. So don’t be dismayed by your swelter! I say, “Own it!” Well, at least own it in your flower beds. I have no control over the efficiency of your air conditioning or how many times a day you have to shower.

 

All the best,

A. J.

– All content photos by Amanda J. Schulz

Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

– Featured Image photo by: Nathaniel R. Schulz

“Inside of the seed is an entire forest.”

– R. A. Delmonico

 

I have a goal of better honoring sustainability in 2018. To speak these words, though, is to also commit to thinking several moves ahead, which sometimes proves difficult when balancing a career, volunteer hours, managing a household with two little ones and, now, tackling coursework for a Master Gardener’s certification. I mean, I’m decent at chess, but I’m no Bobby Fischer.

In doing some research on sustainability, I came across a great summary of what it means to garden sustainably. Planet Natural Resource Center defines the concept by saying:

“Sustainable gardening is one of the most important and effective sustainability practices that we can follow. Its practice and benefits include respecting, and improving the soils, using native plants, shrubs and trees to create beautiful landscapes, feeding one’s family fresh, organically-grown fruits, berries and vegetables and utilizing every renewable resource that nature provides, from rain water to gravel.”

Being that it’s finally winter, so-to-speak, here in North Texas, we can begin to sustain with a relatively easy task…harvesting seeds. If you are concerned that maybe the seed ship has sailed, bundle up and do a little outdoor exploring. I harvested several varieties last weekend, as some of the final seeds had not yet fallen. Fall/winter harvest on all of the species highlighted in this post can really stretch from October through January, depending on the brutality of the North Texas weather.  Old Man Winter has been pleasantly kind this year (excluding his somewhat irritable demeanor this past week). I collected eleven different varieties of seed from our pollinator garden, intent on expansion to new spaces and also to further my commitment to #plantsharenow with other enthusiasts. These eleven, I’ve categorized into four basic groups:  (1) the clusters, (2) the pom rockets, (3) the paratroopers and (4) the k-dots (kids doing their own thing).  I’ll discuss the first three in this post and follow up with category #4 next week. In terms of supplies for harvesting, I prefer to collect in brown paper lunch bags versus plastic bags, as plastic tends to promote condensation and mold. Once seeds are harvested and cured, dried out for a bit, we use Proterra Seed Envelopes for dividing, labeling and sharing our treasure.

You can understand how best to collect seed by first understanding the differences in plant varieties.  Pollinator gardens are full of what I call “clustered” flowers, such as our purple Celestial Mistflower, yellow Fennel and white Frostweed, shown below.  Being clustered blooms, their seeds will also cluster into quite a bounty, solidifying the truth that sometimes a little does, indeed, “go a long way.”

As these flowers cycle through their blooms and begin to dry, you will want to harvest when you see the color black.  You can easily see the black whorl of Celestial Mistflower seeds, ready for collection, in the center of the photo below (left). Notice directly below that, however, is a completely empty casing void of black. That’s when you say, “Bon voyage!” That ship has definitely sailed. Similarly, the Frostweed clusters in the second image (right) are full of nestled black seeds, and you can again notice the difference in the fully open and empty casings, further along the stem, in the lower right section of the photo.

Fennel clusters are a little different in that each tiny flower on the cluster produces one seed.  The seeds are ready when they appear as little dried footballs with black stripes (again black being key). If only nubs remain at the end of the stems, the seeds have already fallen.

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The next category I’ve cutely coined the pom rockets due to how the flowers dry and how the seeds emerge. Once all petals wilt and fall away from blooms like the Blanket Flower (left) and Mexican Sunflower (right), shown below, you are left with a pom pom-like ball, housing dozens of seeds. But harvesting these seeds requires a little more effort and can be prickly, so slip on your gloves.

The pointed tip of the seed is wedged down toward the center of the ball, and the flat, butt-end is what you see from the outside when looking down into the casing. Note the butt-end of the Mexican Sunflower above (lower right) has a distinguishable black spot in the center to help you better “spot” the seed. I find that if you take the tip of a paring knife or the end of the blade on a good pair of hand pruners, I love the tool below by Cutco, you can pop the seeds right out. Line them up, and they look like little rockets shooting off into outer space, or preferably your soil, to work their magic.

Finally, there are those flower varieties that I place into the paratrooper category.  Examples of these might be Tropical Milkweed and Milk Thistle, below.

“Why paratroopers,” you ask? These seeds detach using lovely silken threads, like parachutes, to be carried by the winds to their final landing sites.  I absolutely love the paratroopers.  The Tropical Milkweed seed, shown lifting in the breeze below, is simply nothing short of poetry in motion.

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It is worth noting, though, that paratroopers can be prolific. So if you don’t want ten thousand Milk Thistle popping up around your yard, I’d keep some of the jumpers in the plane. Just clip the blooms immediately after they flower, before the silk appears, and only selectively allow a few blooms to go to seed.

With a little effort and forward-thinking, we can all adopt some sustainable practices. Get out in your winter garden today and see which seeds you can still find hanging around for harvest. Keep some for your own spring garden, #plantsharenow with a friend and join me in a few days as we wrap up with tips on our final seed collection category…the k-dots.  Happy hunting everyone!

All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Images by: A. J. Schulz

Have any great tips on seed collection? Reply and share below.

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