Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wherin the Incompetent Gardener Discovers Tussy Mussies

Part of the idea of this blog was a place to put some earlier garden writing of mine. I thought it would be easy having a stock of older writing to publish along with new posts. What I've found is the earlier writing isn't very good, or at least needs editing. I'm so lazy. So I've just copied this post as is. Small bouquets are one of my joys this time of year. In the picture the flowers look bigger than they actually are. The idea is a bouquet a child might pick, with short stems, something to hold in a little hand.

The Incompetent Gardener Discovers Tussy Mussies

August 29, 2005

For some time I have thought it would be nice if people wore flowers more often; taking my advice only so far as to wear an occasional rosebud in my jacket lapel. Occasionally, because it's not so often in the summer I have occasion to wear a sports jacket. However today walking in the garden I paid attention to the wealth of floral material that would be nice to wear if only I could find a good way of wearing them. The solution I came up with is simple and effective.

On my dressing table I found a metal button from an old uniform. The embossing on the button is SFD and I haven't a clue what that stands for, but am happy to have a reason for making a story. Using a 24 inch length of Dacron fishing line folded in half, I threaded the two open ends through the tang of the button, securing the button by passing these ends through the loop made by the threads at the other end of the button tang. What I ended up with was a metal button in the middle and a right and left thread, a perfect arrangement to make the button in the middle spin to a cool effect. On each of these open ends I tied red beads.

Then into the garden I went. One of the first flowers that caught my eye were the blooms on my hens and chicks growing in the wall. The flowers on the succulent don't quite seem the ones I'd expect: small daisies that bloom along a flower stem. Most of the flowers have passed leaving the blossoms brown and gone to seed. I noticed one stem which still had a few open lowers at the top and pulled it out from the roots. Then I sought out a nice brown catnip bud. And snagged a sprig of Sweat Autumn Clematis. I love the strong smell of Calamint and snagged a little sprig of it. And taken with the beauty of the tiny pink flowers looked for some Catmint with their pretty blue but tiny flowers. The bouquet taking shape in my hand was pretty and smelled wonderful.

Soon I was looking all around my garden for suitable material for these diminutive bouquets. The number of choices astounded me. I liked the dark purple Viburnum fruit with the cream pearl Snowball bush fruit which looked splendid with the dark black seed cases of Baptisa. The dark browns of a spent Monarda blossom have a fur-like quality and the dark colors throughout the bouquet make for a dignified display to wear.

Once I had collected my bunch, I wrapped the two beaded ends of my button and string around the floral material, securing them by passing through the loop in the threads at the button and then drawing the bouquet tight. I'm wearing a polo shirt with four buttons. I threaded the beaded end of my string though the second button hole and pulled so the metal button met the button hole. Then I buttoned the shirt button and the one above it. Then I simply looped the strings over the third button making the beads dangle in bouquet. The whole arrangement was secure and yet simple to take off. What's important to visualize is that the bouquet is facing down relative to the way that it would be displayed in a vase. And as I sit at my desk as I write the bouquet is resting that way in my pencil cup.

There's a long tradition of making floral bouquets to wear. It seems the herbs that I choose made the bouquets resemble most the tussy mussies worn by Victorian women tied by a ribbon to the top of their gloved hand which they raised to their nose to mask the putrid urban odors that would offend their sensibilities. Wearing tussy mussies seems something that gentlemen and ladies of today would enjoy. Indeed that's preferred because it opens lines of communicating with the language of flowers. That there exist plenty of information regarding meanings attached to particular plants and flowers seems to allow for creating stories about any of the material you choose; that is of course if you are there to tell. Picking flowers is fun in itself, but there's particular pleasure in giving them. How nice to exchange. I look forward to making tussy mussies for myself and others. Wearing them could become a fad and then a custom, because I think we'd all agree that it would be nice to see people wearing flowers more often.

Saving Seeds

I'm utterly incompetent in blogging here. Really a blog is a good form of garden diary, but I'm afraid either on paper or in bytes a diary is of little use unless it's used.

Right now my garden is over grown with annual weeds. But I do like to clean it up a little this time of year, particularly at the edges. The weeds don't come back very strongly so some semblance of order can be achieved. Most of all the garden is so lovely in September. Now there's a riot of Black-Eyed Susan's and hardly any flower is so nice in a mass of bloom.

I hardly clean up very throughly, indeed mostly I let things go until the Spring. That provides cover for insects and animals. Ack! Speaking of varmints, I noticed a ground hog has dug a burrow in my vegetable garden. I'm none too happy about that. I don't have the heart to actually do much about the ground hogs, you know like killing them. But I probably will try something to see if I can encourage this one to go dig a burrow elsewhere. I've heard a bit of barbed wire wrapped around a stick placed in the hole will get them to leave. Speaking of ground hogs, they love plastic, to carpet their living quarters. I went into the barn yesterday and noticed a roll of plastic pulled the whole length of the room with one end frayed. A woodchuck must have tried to steal it for his den.

Anyhow with my half-hearted efforts to tidy up my garden beds, I've been collecting some seed for next year. Not surprisingly I concentrate on seeds which are easy to collect and also easy to direct sow.

Perhaps the easiest flower seed of all to collect is the orange Cosmos Cosmos sulphureus (that picture is a bit misleading as the common types are 18-36 inches tall). The seeds are in a sort of star shape and easily gathered in the hand. Because they are so easy to collect, the seed packets are cheap to buy. There's a nice mix containing a range of yellows and a few reds called 'Bright Lights'. I've also grown selections that are all red. Both are lovely, but I've been growing from collected seed for so many years that all my blossoms are generic orange. They are so worthwhile growing because they come into bloom quickly from sowing, as far as I can tell the ground needs little preparation, and they bloom all summer long. They are great in combination with daisy's and Zinnia, a wonderful "filler" plant.

The picture is of Calendula officinalis or pot marigold. That particular flower is yellow, but most of the ones growing around here are orange. There are some terrific selections with quite beautiful flowers, which will come true to seed. But again, in my lazy way I've collected seeds for many years (because these are as easy to collect as orange cosmos seeds) and the ones I grow are a pretty ordinary sort. Calendula like rather cooler weather, so it's good to get them in early for nice stout plants. Like Cosmos they bloom over a long period, even into the fall.

I love Larkspur. Larkspur is closely related to Delphinium; there are an awful lot of species, and the catalogs seem to fudge on the names. Given the close relation to Delphinium, the seeds are probably poisonous, so don't eat them! The sort that I grow are Blue Cloud from a packet I bought from Cook's Garden at least a dozen years ago. Cook's doesn't name the species. Select names it Consolida regalis, which is probably correct, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it listed as Consolida ajacis, or as Consolida ambigua, or even Delphinium. Names can be so tricky at times, so the thing to look for is 'Blue Cloud'. Really any flower from a packet marked "Larkspur" is bound to be pretty, but 'Blue Cloud' is especially worth growing. Mostly these self-seed in place, but I collect seed to spread around. The seed definately likes to germinate on cold ground, so the old adage is to sow "when the Red-winged Blackbird returns" early March around these parts. The small round seeds fall out of a tube like container, so is easy to collect.

Nasturtium seed is also easy to collect. Right now these seeds are still a bit green, so I let them sit out on a sheet of paper for a few weeks until they are dry enough to pack up. I love Nasturtiums, they are pretty and the flowers are so tasty. Every year I wonder why I don't plant more of them, especially along with the vegetables in the garden. I collect the seeds to plant out next year. Another thing to be done with Nasturtium seed is to make Poor Man's Capers, that is to pickle them.

It's not hard to collect seeds. Some seeds involve a process of winnowing, meaning to blow away the chaff, but even that's not so hard. Of course I concentrate on the easy ones because I'm so lazy. But even I'll take a little more effort for flowers I want more of or are unusual. I've been eying some lovely orange milk weed along the road near my house. I grow it here, but I think that roadside plant may be particularly well adapted to this place. Later when autumn is just beginning, and if I think of it, I'll collect some seeds from that plant. It's quite worth giving seed collecting a try. packets of seeds are much more expensive than they used to be and it's nice to have an abundant supply of seeds in the Spring.

For most seeds I pack them in handmade envelopes. I cut sheets of paper with printing on one side into quarters for notepaper anyway. That quarter sheet size works nicely for many seeds. I simply fold the bottom corner up about midway, then fold the right flap over and then the left. I've then got a tube or envelope to be filled with a small quantity of seed. Then I fold the open end down and tuck the point in a slot where the flaps were folded over making a little squarish pack. It's easy to label, which of course you'll want to do as it will save much time in the spring when you're planning and planting. As summer matures, it's a pleasure to notice the seed bearing parts of plants and to collect a few seeds along the way.